Study Guide

This Is Where I Leave You Themes

  • Family

    This ain't no Leave it to Beaver—the Foxman family ends up in more fistfights, late-night affairs, and heated arguments than we could count. Yet, despite this, the Foxman family is able to walk away at the end of This Is Where I Leave You stronger and more united than ever before. Are they perfect? No way. Will they fight again? We'd put money on it. But the important thing is that the Foxmans learn that family does matter—and that we really just have a short time together.

    Questions About Family

    1. What role does Linda play in the Foxman family? How might this role be affected by her relationship with Hillary?
    2. Why do you think the family is so affectionate towards Phillip, despite his hard-won status as the family screw-up?
    3. What drives Paul to fight for Judd after he gets beat up after the high school party?
    4. Do you think the Foxman family will be closer after the events of the novel? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    This Is Where I Leave You rightly observes that long-standing, unspoken tension will tear any family apart with time.

    The novel argues that it just takes a little bit of re-immersion into your family for you to regress back your childhood, no matter how old or mature you've gotten in the meantime.

  • Love

    What is love? Bob Marley wants to know—and so does Judd Foxman. Judd has a pretty simple answer to the question—baby don't hurt me no more. See, he's going through some stuff: his wife left him, his father died, and he's rekindling his relationship with his college flame. As you might imagine, his feelings on love are complicated. One moment he's talking trash about the false standards set by Hollywood; the next he's waxing poetic about love with the passion and fervor of a fifteen year old girl's Tumblr. As This Is Where I Leave You points out, that's what love is, or at least what it's like: rarely rational, hardly ever consistent—just out of control.

    Questions About Love

    • How do Judd's marital problems affect his view on "young love"?
    • Did Wendy make the right choice between Barry and Horry? Why or why not?
    • Why does Judd fall in love with every pretty girl he sees?
    • What does Linda and Hillary's relationship say about love? And Mort's acceptance of it?

    Chew on This

    For all of his anti-love rants, Judd is as hopeless a romantic as they come.

    The novel as a whole argues that there's no such thing as a "one true love"—to the contrary, love is portrayed as unstable and hard to predict.

  • Religion

    Although he Foxman family just might be the least religious people ever to sit shiva, religion plays a big part in the events of This Is Where I Leave You. Maybe it's because Mort Foxman, the recently deceased patriarch, requested that the family perform the traditional Jewish mourning ritual of "shiva" in his honor. Maybe it's because the family experiences a surprising amount of relief while at Temple. Or maybe it's simply because Jewish cultural tradition plays a big part in their personal lives. No matter which way you slice it—and please, leave us a piece with jalapeños—the novel takes a hard look at the value that religious tradition can hold even for non-believers.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Why do the non-religious Foxmans have a deep emotional experience at temple?
    2. In your opinion, what inspired Boner to give up Led Zeppelin and drugs to become a rabbi? Does the text provide any evidence?
    3. What was Mort's relationship with Judaism? How might that have affected his relationship with his kids?
    4. Why does Phillip think it "would be nice to believe in God"?

    Chew on This

    Despite his avowed atheism, Mort Foxman has a lot more affection for Jewish religious tradition than he'd like to let on.

    This Is Where I Leave You argues that the feeling of togetherness instilled by religion is just as important—if not more so—than its mystical or faith-based aspects.

  • Sex

    Sex is messy. (Emotionally speaking. Get your minds out of the gutter.) Judd Foxman knows this as well as anybody. His wife just cheated on him. He's jumping back into a fling with his old college girlfriend, Penny. His mom just started a sexual relationship with one of her lifelong best friends—and a woman, no less. And here's Judd stuck in the middle, hormones raging harder than they have since puberty. You might end up agreeing with his mom, Hillary, when she says that sex is just about "scratching an itch." Even if you don't, you'll still find a compelling look at the nature of sex in This Is Where I Leave You.

    Questions About Sex

    1. Was Hillary's openness about sex a good or bad thing for Judd growing up?
    2. Why did Jen and Judd's sex life become complacent as their marriage went on?
    3. What does Hillary and Linda's romance say about the nature of sexuality? Is that really inevitable?
    4. What is it about Wade that makes Judd so insecure about his own sexual performance?

    Chew on This

    Through couples like Hillary and Linda (and even Judd's own experiences), This Is Where I Leave You argues that sexuality is fluid, not constant.

    The novel makes it clear that sexuality cannot be detached from emotional and romantic concerns.

  • Mortality

    Are you ready for a big surprise? A twist ending? Here goes: This Is Where I Leave You … deals with the theme of death. We know. It's a shocker, what with the whole book taking place while the Foxman family is sitting shiva for their dad, Mort. As you might imagine, Judd spends a lot of time thinking about death and mortality. Sometimes he wrestles with guilt over his absence during his father's final days. Sometimes he freaks out a little about the way that we deteriorate as we get older. And sometimes he just wants to focus on the next few days. All this is to say, you're not going to understand death after reading this book—no book's going to give you those answers. But if you're looking for an honest, heartfelt, and occasionally hilarious look at the way we grieve, this is a great place to start.

    Questions About Mortality

    1. In your opinion, what kept Judd from visiting his father when he was sick? Does the text provide any evidence?
    2. Do the Foxman children handle their grief differently? What evidence do you see that they're even feeling grief at all?
    3. How do Judd's dreams help him make peace with his father's death?
    4. How does the current condition of the Foxman home reflect Mort's death?

    Chew on This

    Mort's death doesn't precipitate Judd's midlife crisis; it helps him get through it.

    This Is Where I Leave You is concerned not just with death itself, but with the inevitable decline that precedes it.

  • Dissatisfaction

    Judd Foxman is one red sports car and a young girlfriend away from having a midlife crisis. His wife is gone, his dad is dead, his career is over, and he's macking on the girl who got away. Oh yeah, and did we mention that he has a kid on the way? After spending a life indulging his own adolescence, Judd finds himself woefully unprepared for the challenges of adult life. But look at it this way: Judd is standing on the edge of the cliff with his old life behind him and his new life ahead. This Is Where I Leave You shows him hesitating before taking that leap—but can you really blame him?

    Questions About Dissatisfaction

    1. Which characters (besides Judd) feel dissatisfied with their lives? Why do they feel that way?
    2. What causes Judd's midlife crisis? On a similar note, what additional problems does his breakdown cause?
    3. Are Judd's feelings of dissatisfaction justified? Why or why not?
    4. Do you think Judd is in a better headspace at the end of the novel? Has he solved his midlife crisis, or is he just beginning it?

    Chew on This

    Judd's profound dissatisfaction isn't merely about Jen—it's about the feelings of inadequacy brought about by his dad's death.

    While Judd isn't exactly living on easy street, he's dissatisfied because he's immature, not because his life is falling apart.

  • Marriage

    If you're looking for a novel that extols the many joys of marriage, then This Is Where I Leave You is definitely not the book for you. (May we suggest a Nicholas Sparks novel?) While author Jonathan Tropper isn't exactly opposed to the concept of marriage, he takes a microscope to the reality of married life and sees something pretty ugly in the waters. Our protagonist, the recently cuckolded Judd, has no shortage of cynical opinions about the institution and won't hesitate to tell you about them. He's like a good stand-up comic: you might not always agree with what he's saying, but he'd definitely have you laughing—and probably thinking, too.

    Questions About Marriage

    1. Do the Foxman children approach marriage in a similar way? Why or why not?
    2. In your opinion, what caused Jen and Judd's marriage to fall apart?
    3. Was Judd prepared for married life? Why or why not?
    4. Did Mort and Hillary provide a good example for their children's marriages?

    Chew on This

    Judd's marriage ended for the same, deceptively simple reason that most do—immaturity.

    In This Is Where I Leave You, the decision to have children is portrayed as a true make-or-break moment for any marriage.

  • Men and Masculinity

    Judd Foxman feels like a little boy surrounded by men. There's Wade Boulanger, Judd's former boss and textbook alpha male. There's Paul, Judd's older brother, whose picture is printed under the dictionary entry for "jock." And then there's Mort Foxman, Judd's recently deceased father. Mort is the Rosetta Stone for understanding This Is Where I Leave You's perspective on masculinity: he was Judd's masculine ideal, and with him gone, Judd has to learn how to be man on his own terms. What will happen to our fearless hero? Tune in next week! Or, you know, just click on the links.

    Questions About Men and Masculinity

    1. Does Mort provide a good masculine role model for his sons? Why or why not?
    2. In what ways does Wade both embody and fall short of the masculine archetype?
    3. Does Judd feel like a man? Why or why not? What would it mean for him to feel like a man?
    4. How do Judd's dreams relate to his feelings about masculinity? Is masculinity something Judd fears or admires, or a little of both?

    Chew on This

    Many of Judd's insecurities following his separation come from the fact that Wade simply is a manlier dude than he is.

    Through characters like Mort Foxman, the novel uses traditional male archetypes—like strength, gruffness, and emotional distance—to define the ultimate man.

  • Betrayal

    If you've read This Is Where I Leave You, then you're probably sick of hearing Judd go on and on about Jen's betrayal. He's like that friend who's constantly gchatting you about his girl problems: Ping. Ping. Ping. Dude, we're trying to work, here! But look at it from Judd's perspective: it's bad enough that his wife cheated on him, but it's so much worse that she cheated on him with his uber-handsome boss, Wade. Does Judd deal with the betrayal well? Don't make us lol. Judd's world has been turned upside down. His wife, his career, and his friends are all gone in the blink of an eye. How do you pick up the pieces and move on from something like that? Well, a road trip is a good start.

    Questions About Betrayal

    1. Why did Jen seek out an affair? What does her choice of Wade say about her? What does it say about Judd?
    2. In what ways does Jen's betrayal affect Judd's personal and professional life?
    3. Is Judd justified in holding a grudge against Jen and Wade? Why or why not?
    4. How is Judd's love for Jen affected when he learns of her affair?

    Chew on This

    This Is Where I Leave You argues that Jen's betrayal is rooted in Judd's inability to be emotionally present—in other words, his betrayal of her.

    Although Jen's betrayal certainly wasn't the right thing to do, the novel makes it clear that their marriage had already fallen apart by that point.