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How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper
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How to Talk to a Widower (2007)

by Jonathan Tropper

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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
This is the third Tropper novel I have read, the first being This is Where I Leave You. I liked both of them a lot. They are poignant, sweet, funny, vicious, and insightful. His family dinner scenes are classic. They have you laughing out loud only to get sucker punched by the perceptiveness. He does this through the classic comedian's technique of hyperbole, but it's not exaggerated so much that it becomes caricature. We've all seen elements of his dysfunctional family in ourselves and others.

His books (from what I've read his others do also) also relate to how we deal with death; in this one Doug Parker, age twenty-nine, wallows in self-pity after the death of his wife, Hailey, in a plane crash. She was older than he and came with a twelve-year-old son, Russ.

At the dinner celebrating his sister Deb's upcoming marriage, as things go from bad to worse,

Russ [Doug's stepson] excuses himself for a minute, is gone for fifteen, and comes back with his eyes glazed over. “You had to get high right now?” I whisper to him. “It was so important?” “It was a biological imperative, dude. It is fucking intense in here.” “It’s just dinner with the family.” “Come on, man. It’s like there’s a hunk of C4 strapped to the table and we’re all just waiting to see when it will detonate. I can’t believe you dragged me here.”

It’s a tricky enough business forming a friendship with a pissed-off teenager under the best of circumstances. Now try it when you’re sleeping with his mother, when you are, quite literally, a motherfucker. Let me tell you, that requires a whole other skill set. When I first moved in, I knew I’d have to make an effort to bond with Russ so that Hailey could feel good about the whole arrangement. If she didn’t, it wasn’t like she was going to give her kid the boot. Last one hired, first one fired. And so I applied myself like a laid-back uncle, giving him lifts to school or the mall to meet his friends, taking him to the occasional weeknight movie, editing his term papers, and, more recently, taking him out for driving practice in my secondhand Saab. I was a lazy boy and I am a lazy man, and the beauty of the situation was that I wasn’t really expected to be a parent to Russ, which, based on the limited wisdom I have to offer, was a win-win situation for all involved.


They had not been married long and Doug refuses to admit that life goes on: his twin sister is leaving her husband after becoming pregnant and his younger sister, Deb, is getting married to Mike whom she met at Doug's shiva for Hailey, a source of much resentment. Then there is his dad who has just survived a personality-changing stroke. Doug, a columnist, has begin writing a column which is becoming increasingly popular, called "How to Talk to a Widower."

Doug has become a self-imposed social outcast, spending his time throwing rocks (and cell phone) at the rabbits in his yard, saying the kinds of things I guess we all wish we had the guts to. "I lost something after Hailey died. I’m not sure what to call it, but it’s the device that stops you from telling the truth when people ask you how you’re doing, that vital valve that keeps your deeper, truer emotions under lock and key. I don’t know exactly when I lost it, or how to get it back, but for now, when it comes to tact, civility, and discretion, I’m an accident waiting to happen, over and over again." So you get marvelously delicious scenes like this one:

"... few weeks ago, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Jew for Jesus or some other freak on happy pills selling God in a pamphlet showed up at my door, smiling like a cartoon, and said, “Have you let God into your life?” “God can fuck himself.” He smiled beatifically at me, like I’d just complimented his crappy JCPenney suit. “I once felt the way you do, brother.” “You’re not my brother,” I hissed at him. “And you have never felt like this. If you’d ever felt like this, you would still feel like this, because it doesn’t go away."

And the scene where he goes out on a date with a divorcee who has two young children is priceless. Let's just say part of it involves him noting that he usually doesn't mop up vomit until the third date.

( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Twenty-nine year old Doug Parker is a widower finding it incredibly difficult to come to terms with the death of his wife. On top of that his sixteen year old stepson, Russ, is getting into trouble, his bossy twin sister Clair, newly pregnant, has left her husband and moved in and his other high achieving sister, Debbie, is engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and determined to have the perfect wedding.

Hilarious - I love Troppers turn and phrase and he certainly delves deep into depression. Well worth a read! ( )
  boppisces | Sep 18, 2013 |
Too much wallowing: acceptable in real life, not appreciated in fiction. ( )
  cherilove | Jun 6, 2013 |
Reiterating everyone else´s comments, but this read like a screenplay which had moments of brilliance, but I ended up skimming a whole lot. It just didn´t live up to the hype or the promise of the first chapter. ( )
  thiscatsabroad | Apr 5, 2013 |
Screenplay turned into book, anyone? ( )
1 vote olevia | Apr 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
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For Alexa Rose, who hangs with me in the wee small hours with love
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Russ is stoned. You can see it in the whites of his eyes, which are actually more of a glazed pink under the flickering yellow porch light, in the dark discs of his dilated pupils, in the way his eyelids hang sluggishly at half-mast, and in the careless manner in which he leans nonchalantly against the pissed-off cop that is propping him up at my front door, like they're drinking buddies staggering out into the night after last call.
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The point is people become possessive of their grief, almost proud of it.  They want to believe it’s like no one else’s.  But it is.  It’s exactly like everybody else’s. Grief is like a shark.  It’s been around forever, and in that time there’s been just about no evolution.  You know why? Because it’s perfect just the way it is.
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Book description
Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet suburban town, that makes him something of a celebrity—the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, unbridled desire. But Doug has other things on his mind. First there's his sixteen year-old stepson, Russ: a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. Then there are Doug's sisters: his bossy twin, Clair, who's just left he husband and moved in with Doug, determined to rouse him from his Grieving stupor. And Debbie, who's engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and manically determined to pull off the perfect wedding at any cost.

Soon Doug's entire nuclear family is in his face. And when he starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time around dating scene, it isn't long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across the suburban landscape.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385338910, Paperback)

"Beautifully crafted", "Fantastically funny." "Compulsively readable." Jonathan Tropper has earned wild acclaim—-and comparisons to Nick Hornby and Tom Perrotta—for his biting humor and insightful portrayals of families in crisis and men behaving badly. Now the acclaimed author of The Book of Joe and Everything Changes tackles love, lust, and lost in the suburbs—in a stunning novel that is by turns heartfelt and riotously funny.

Doug Parker is a widower at age twenty-nine, and in his quiet suburban town, that makes him something of a celebrity—the object of sympathy, curiosity, and, in some cases, unbridled desire. But Doug has other things on his mind. First there's his sixteen year-old stepson, Russ: a once-sweet kid who now is getting into increasingly serious trouble on a daily basis. Then there are Doug's sisters: his bossy twin, Clair, who's just left he husband and moved in with Doug, determined to rouse him from his Grieving stupor. And Debbie, who's engaged to Doug's ex-best friend and manically determined to pull off the perfect wedding at any cost.

Soon Doug's entire nuclear family is in his face. And when he starts dipping his toes into the shark-infested waters of the second-time around dating scene, it isn't long before his new life is spinning hopelessly out of control, cutting a harrowing and often hilarious swath of sexual missteps and escalating chaos across the suburban landscape.


From the Hardcover edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:26:10 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Twenty-nine-year-old widower Doug Parker finds his life spiraling out of control as he struggles to come to terms with grief, love, family, and suburbia while dealing with a bossy, pregnant twin sister who urges him to begin dating again, a younger sister planning her wedding, a mother dealing with her ailing husband, and a hostile teenage stepson.… (more)

» see all 5 descriptions

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