Monday, May 17, 2010

How To Talk To A Widower: When Grief is Hilarious!

Normally if you read several books by the same author, and the main character in each of those books is pretty much the same guy, you'd be annoyed and probably scream "Unoriginal! Repetitive!"  But Jonathan Tropper manages to pull this off. How? His prose reads like a 330 pages of stand-up comedy, so you don't really mind that he doesn't spend a whole lot of time on character development. But beyond his wonderful prose, as I've mentioned before, I love reading Tropper because his stories have heart, and are just so, for lack of a better word, true.

If you've read Tropper at all, you'll easily recognize Doug Parker, our protagonist for How To Talk To A Widower, as Zack from Everything Changes and Judd from This Is Where I Leave You. He's a wise-cracking, self-deprecating dude's dude with a slightly off-kilter family and a complicated relationship with women.

In this novel, the angle is that Doug's wife Hailey, 11 years his senior, has died in a plane crash (Doug is 29). And so he's spent the last year grieving — which has limited his activity to drinking heavily, feeling sorry for himself, occasionally yelling at people who express sympathy, and writing a monthly column for a magazine about how to talk to a widower. But Doug's twin sister Claire, who has her own relationship dilemmas, convinces him that he needs to get back into the dating pool. Meanwhile, he's also charged with the care of his wife's 16-year-old son from a previous marriage, who is angry at the world, as teenagers are. Hilarity ensues.

But, again, the fun derived from this novel is directly attributable to the writing. Want some examples?  Sure, no problem: "Pity, I've learned, is like a fart. You can tolerate your own, but you simply can't stand anyone else's." Too low-brow?  Then this'll really make you wince: "I've never been to an OB/GYN office before, and you can almost see fractal bends in the air from all the estrogen floating around in here."

I read the last 200 pages of this novel on a plane in a feverish, barely-looking-up trance. I loved it! So if you're looking for something on the light side that'll make you laugh, think and even get a little emotional, check it out.


  1. thanks for this Tropper recommendation - I really enjoyed This Is Where I Leave and am interested in reading more by this author. Interesting that he keeps writing about death!

  2. I am always looking for "plane reads", thanks for this one!


  3. @Booksnyc - Good point - death is the spark for each of the last two of his novels (this one was 2006). Check out Everything Changes, too - also very good!

    @Cym - You got it, pal. A plane read of the highest order, this is.

  4. I'll probably check this out, thanks for the review.

  5. When I read "This Is Where I Leave You," it was so perfect I was almost afraid to read any more Tropper -- for fear it would not be as good. You've allayed my fears, and I thank you.

  6. Thanks for the recommendation! I've never read anything by Tropper before but I've heard he's similar to Hornby and the lines you provided mean this will probably be the next book I buy.