That’s exactly what I did.
I hopped a train to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to chat with Jonathan Tropper, bestselling author of “The Book of Joe” and “This Is Where I Leave You,” which will become a feature film sometime in the near-future. His other novels are: “Everything Changes,” “How to Talk to a Widower” and “Plan B.”
I’m a longtime fan of Tropper’s funny, irreverent and soul-scratchingly beautiful novels filled with real, flawed, and as he says, “over the top” characters. He’s a fabulously witty writer who’s hypersensitive to detail; he can see right through fake people. This guy’s the real deal.
As opposed to (dare I say it) crap fiction cluttered with clichés and flat, one-sided characters, Tropper’s novels brim with multi-dimensional, realistic beings. Most of Tropper’s characters make bad life decisions and speak before they think. Like most of us. Because we’re all painfully, beautifully human.
In his own way, Tropper teaches us ladies that there’s more to men than boxers and a you-know-what. Particularly, the guys in Tropper’s novels are emotionally screwed, self-deprecating dudes who eventually redeem themselves. Through Tropper’s truthful portrayal of men as flawed but sensitive human beings, we realize that even when they stumble, they’re worthy of a second (or third…or fourth) chance. Just as with a boyfriend or a husband, or even a brother, sometimes you want to slap them. Other times, you want to hug and squeeze them and tell them how much you love them. Why? Because as imperfect and f-ed up they are, the uber-talented Tropper inconspicuously peels away the layers of their sarcasm, bitterness, crudeness and whatnot, eventually revealing to us that these sometimes-thoughtless schmucks are actually lovable.
When I asked Tropper why he became a writer (other than the obvious amazing talent), he said, “I wasn’t good at anything else. Math wasn’t going to do it for me. My mother always thought I’d be a psychiatrist because I was good at analyzing people.”
But Tropper, a longtime piano player, admitted that his initial dream was to become a rock star. Unfortunately Tropper never found his permanent place in the spotlight. “I was always the guy who couldn’t join the band because they never had a damn piano,” he said.
Tropper, who still plays every day, began to occupy most of his time with another kind of keyboard. This time, instead of ticklin’ the ivories, he’d be ticklin’ his typewriter (a.k.a. ticklin’ our souls with his writing).
“[Writing] was the only thing that was left in me,” he said. “I just didn’t imagine that I’d get paid to do it.”
What made Tropper so successful? Well, he says it best: “I kind of write the way I speak. I’m trying to write [fiction] truthfully in the way that people know exactly what I’m talking about.”
He doesn’t ramble with stuffy diction. He comes right out and says what he wants to say. It’s therapeutic, probably for him, but most of all, for his readers.
Another factor contributing to his success is his good ear for conversation and love of social interactions. “I’m fascinated by people,” he said. “I think I would have been a good shrink. I just couldn’t have gone to medical school.”
Tropper added, “I’m very interested at the way people are talking to each other or aren’t talking to each other, or find ways to front or find socially acceptable ways to brag…or you know, flirt, or any of that…I just love watching the behavior of people.”
But he thinks his keen awareness of society is sort of a curse: “I watch people’s behaviors and get irritated easily by people’s inability to tell the truth or see the truth. Makes me sort of a misanthrope. You know, you’re over people. And at the same time it makes me conscious of my own behavior. Sometimes I feel like such a f—ing hypocrite.”
Ah. Don’t we all?
Through his (sometimes brutal) honesty, he gives readers a juicy slice of life. He explains, “If you do it well, you’re giving people, like, touchstones that they relate to. I was watching a Simpsons episode where somebody said something to Homer. Homer laughs and says, ‘It’s funny because it’s true.’ ”
Jonathan Tropper is no Nathaniel Hawthorne. He’s certainly not F. Scott Fitzgerald. We don’t expect him to be. We’d cringe if he were. It’s Tropper’s character empathy and profound sense of humanity that makes his work so great. So great, indeed, that it gnaws at your soul while simultaneously nourishing it. But Tropper doesn’t even see it that way.
“I don’t think I’m terribly effusive or turn a mean phrase,” he said. “I think it’s more about that I just know how to write about people.”
Right he is. And write he does.
To purchase his books, visit the Jonathan Tropper section of Amazon.com by clicking here.
Photo credit: Elizabeth Parker Tropper