"Who is your favourite writer?"
As an English Literature graduate, this question is the equivalent of asking a parent, "Which is your favourite child?" or asking a Trekkie, "Kirk or Picard?". Well, maybe I am stretching things a little with the Trekkies because the ones I know are more than happy to enter into a six-hour diatribe on their favourite. Hopefully, this blog post won't take six hours to get through.
People often ask me, "Who is your favourite writer?" because I was a passionate English student at school, I was an English major at university, and because I am now doing a Masters degree in Modern Literary Studies (hold the snorts of derision - this is my blog). Sometimes I will be really difficult with people and reply, "Well, I could tell you my favourite satirist! Or my favourite playwright, Or my favourite poet!", and so on and so on. But, honestly? The novelist, er, author, er... ah, screw it: the PERSON I keep coming back to is Jonathan Tropper.
I was first made aware of Jonathan by an Irish novelist by the name of Ronan O'Brien. I had read Ronan's debut (and to this date, only) novel "Confessions of a Fallen Angel" and then emailed him to pass on my compliments. He responded and cited Jonathan Tropper as one of his inspirations, specifically his book, "How to Talk to a Widower". I had enjoyed O'Brien's book immensely (this feeling was short-lived and I'll get back to why later on), so I wasted no time in checking out this bizarrely-titled book by Tropper. I use the word 'bizarrely' because this was at a time when "Deathly Hallows", "City of Glass", "Breaking Dawn" and the oh-so-imaginative "The Secret" were flying around. Nothing against these books (okay, that's a lie) but they didn't exactly condition me to expect big things from a book with 'Widower' in the title.
A dozen pages in and I was HOOKED! Tropper's style, his characters, his humour, and everything else he was doing came flooding through loud and clear. As a reader, this isn't something which you find too often in the first chapter of a first read of the first book of a new author. I found myself feeling more excited about reading than I had since Orwell's "Animal Farm" back when I was 12 years old. I devoured 'Widower' that weekend, and I quickly went around local bookstores in an effort to track down the rest of Tropper's back catalogue. I soon got my hands on "Everything Changes" and "Bush Falls" (as "The Book of Joe" is titled here in the UK), and read through those just as quickly. In fact, 'Joe' quickly surplanted 'Widower' as my favourite Tropper text and it is one which I cannot wait to get back to once this semester ends and I have time for some leisure reading again.After 3 strong, entertaining and moving novels, I finally made a start on Tropper's debut piece, "Plan B". This was quite a different kind of reading experience because it was so clear to me that Tropper had learned a hell of a lot since his first book. Please do not misunderstand me: "Plan B" is still a great read, but Tropper's literary voice since then has only become more refined and more confident - as you hope to, but very rarely, see with any new author. Too many come out of the gate all guns blazing, but fall at the second hurdle and never recover. So, having read Tropper's work in reverse, it was refreshing to see a fledgling new writer with lots of potential and to know that all of that potential was well on its way to being realised in the present day. After finishing "Plan B" in late 2008, it was a bit of a shock to the system to realise that I had well over a year to wait until Tropper's next offering (the 2010 bestseller "This Is Where I Leave You") would be released. In this time, I began my undergraduate degree in English Literature and my habit of recreational reading was soon a thing of the past. Instead, I was buried under Joyce, Synge, Woolf and Poe; Edgeworth, Wells, Darwin and Freud; Dickens, Gaskell, Haggard and Eliot; Dickinson, Hemingway, Austen and Pope; Smollet, Sterne, Defoe and Fielding; and so on and so on and so on and so on.... These folks weren't the shabbiest company with whom to spend my days, and for a while they managed to shake Mr. Tropper out of my head. Then came summer break of my second year of college when I received an email from Amazon recommending that I pre-order the 'soon-to-be-released, sure-to-be-bestseller latest title from Jonathan Tropper' and I had one of those cartoon moments where my jaw hit the floor and my tongue rolled out to the end of the room.
I knew that name!
I knew that name because I read his books!
I knew that name because I read his books FOR FUN!
You must understand: by this point in my degree I was speed-reading 2-3 novels per week, was barreling through a few hundred pages of critical reviews, and working a part-time job which wound up involving more hours than my actual degree. So to be reminded of the one author in the last 5 years who had made me genuinely excited about reading was oh-so-sweet and oh-so-needed at that particular point in my studies. Come to think of it, I am nearing that point again in my Masters degree, so the sooner Tropper book #6 is released, the better for my sanity!
So, I ordered the book, I read the book, I loved the book. Same old routine as I had come to know when reading Tropper's books, but by this point in 2010 I was beginning to hear rumblings that several of his titles were in the process of being adapted into screenplays. Now, THIS was a real treat for me. I had always described Tropper's books as reading like film scripts, yet maintaining the depth and escapism that one mentally concocts when they talk about a 'great read'. As I type, the projects are still in development and very little is known about the cast/director/release dates; but for now I am happy to know that Tropper's stories will soon find an even wider audience.
For someone who has never read one of his novels before, let me attempt to break down what I find so appealing about Tropper's works of fiction:
- A fictional world. Forgive the generic heading, but I'm fast encoraching on that six-hour limit I promised not to exceed. Tropper's novels tend to follow one main character, while a wealth of secondary characters populate the narrative and lend their own personal problems to whatever challenge with which the protagonist is saddled. Unlike a lot of contemporary texts which lump secondary characters as thinly-layered plot devices, each and every one of Tropper's figures has a quirk, a voice or a background which inform the ways in which they behave. This leads to a richer narrative and a more memorable story in the long run.
- Family. Perhaps the most crucial, recurring element of Tropper's novels is family. Whether this is the group of friends who form a make-shift family during a drug-detox in 'Plan B', or the Shiva-sitting immediate/extended relatives who are crammed together for the majority of 'This Is Where I Leave You', Tropper always seems to find some sort of event to bring all of his characters together and exercise the in-built tensions to which we can all relate when we are subjected to the torturous nightmare of a family gathering. The laughing through the tears, the crying through the laughs, the punching through the hugs - it is all there and then some. I have NEVER came across another writer who crafts characters and families with whom I am so easily able to identify. This is coming from a man who rebels against the idea of identifiying the self with fictional creations, but what do you know? Tropper gets to me.
- Authenticity. Holy crap, how does he do it? I ask myself of this very question every single time that I finish a book. Hell, I ask it after nearly every chapter! The dialogue and the descriptions in these books are among the most raw, real and engrossing that I have ever experienced as a reader. The sex scenes are often full of awkward movements, clumsy manoeuvring and ridiculous excuses for 'dirty talk' (I am still traumatised by Doug's encounter with the neighbourhood nymphomaniac in 'Widower') that we can all unfortunately relate to in some way. What it all comes down to is the refreshing fact that Tropper does not bullshit his audience. I don't know much about Tropper as a person, but it would seem that he is a very down-to-earth, well-educated, professional family man... who just happens to have a wicked sense of humour (that birthday cake visual from 'This Is Where I Leave You' has never left my mind) and a taste for expressing the lesser-featured challenges in life.
Okay, I feel like I am only half done with what I could say, so I am just going to stop now and leave anything else for another day. If this post has made you half-curious about checking out one of Tropper's books, then check out his books on Amazon. You can also find out more information about Jonathan on his website and/or by following him on Twitter.