This Is Where I Leave You (2009), How To Talk To A Widower (2007) and Everything Changes (2005), how much better he's gotten each time is pretty apparent.
The Book of Joe (2004) is Tropper's second novel, but it reads more like a shaky debut. We have some pretty common tropes here: It's a novel about a mid-30s novelist named Joe Goffman. Joe's father has suffered a stroke, so he returns to his hometown after a long absence. But because Joe's best-selling novel and the subsequent movie basically lampooned his hometown and everyone in it, he's not exactly welcomed with open arms. Joe's also hoping to re-fire things up with his former high school sweetheart (who has been in an abusive marriage, but is now conveniently divorced and single). We've seen these movies before, haven't we?
Tropper's also got rockhead bully characters saying things like "You besmirched my reputation" and delinquent high school punks saying things like "Whatever floats your boat, man." And there are some sex scenes that would make Harlequin romance novelists wince. So it's a pretty raw novel, even comically bad in some parts.
Even so, Tropper's wit and humor are here. And so if you like Tropper, and can get by the fact that there's not much very original here, it's still a fun, quick read. The foundation for the three novels that follow this one is clearly apparent in terms of the occasional laugh out loud one-liner. And the makings of Tropper's signature dude-lit with heart are here as well, as Joe seeks his redemption. You do root for Joe, even though he's a self-proclaimed self-absorbed jerk. He's trying to make things right, in his own wise-cracking, sometimes-counter-productive way.
Two stars for The Book of Joe. Definitely No. 4 on my Top 4 list of Tropper novels, but it was fun to see how far the man has come as a novelist. The cosmic leap between this book and This Is Where I Leave You is really amazing!