I immediately reserved this book at the library after I read about the cast for the upcoming movie edition. The cast is basically a who’s who of people Pajibans (and America) loves. I was lukewarm towards the book, but I can’t help but feel that a cast with great chemistry could make me love a movie adaptation. It’s a family dramedy, which is normally right up my alley. When the Foxman patriarch dies, his four adult children and an assortment of their friends and lovers gather to sit Shiva, although they were not even remotely religious growing up.
The middle son (Jason Bateman), going through a painful divorce with his soon to be ex-wife (Abigail Spencer), anchors the story, attempting to hold both himself and his family together while reconnecting with his high school flame (Rose Byrne). His younger brother (Adam Driver) is irresponsible, wasteful and free spirited the way youngest siblings often are, and he comes home with his much older, life coach girlfriend (Connie Britton!!) only to fuck things up for his family and his relationship.
One of the most compelling dramatic tensions in the story was the tension between the oldest brother (Corey Stoll) and the middle brother. A traumatic event in their youth dramatically altered the course of the oldest brother’s life, and neither brother has ever addressed the underlying jealousy and resentment that event caused. Watching them work through their past was satisfying.
The biggest drawback for me is that the only sister in the family (played by Tina Fey) gets the short shift. She has a few children, and an overworked, inattentive husband, and she seems lost. She’s struggling with complicated feelings for her high school boyfriend, partially because their relationship ended when he suffered brain damage in an accident (Timothy Olyphant!!). Maybe it’s because I’m coming off The Post Birthday World, and maybe it’s because the female characters in this book were barely developed – it was definitely a brother’s dominated story – but I felt like her story line was fascinating but underdeveloped.
If you like books that intersperse humor with complicated family dynamics, and that still feel relatable, check this out. It remains very grounded in reality, and is a decent exploration of coming back to your hometown and your family as an adult. The movie also includes Kathryn Hahn as the oldest brother’s wife desperate to get pregnant, and Ben Schwartz as a young, trying to hard rabbi guiding the family.