by: Jason Waddell
Saturday, airport, the closing moments of a week-long pilgrimage to Texas for my brother’s wedding. On account of jetlag, I spent most of the week waking up hours before my family, during which time I burned through a pair of Murakami hard-covers and Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant, borrowed (permanently) from my high school sweetheart’s bookshelf. Books of merit. Books more worthy of review.
I paced the halls of Austin Bergstrom Airport, with 14 hours of travel looming on the near horizon. This was my fate. To find entertainment in an airport bookstore. The Fault In Our Stars. Somebody told me something about that book. Was it garbage or amazing? Can we take the risk? I’m not about to drudge through some George R. R. Martin tome, and if memory serves J. K. Rowling’s latest was hardly purported to deliver.
I flip aimlessly through the pages of a couple bestsellers. Am I too much of an asshole to appreciate the layman’s literature? When did I become so pejorative? Why am I using the word ‘pejorative’? Shouldn’t the readers know I spelled it ‘perjorative’ until Chrome produced a squiggly red underline?
Look at this fucking book. It’s got a movie poster on the cover.
Okay, that’s actually just the movie poster, but Google Images is failing me big time here. The same image was used for the book cover, which you, the reader, will have to take on faith.
The movie cast wasn’t listed on the book itself, so it was some guesswork on my part. There’s Jason Bateman, in something that isn’t Arrested Development, which means it must be terrible and underwhelming. Some generic looking woman that I later learned to be Tina Fey. Is that really her? How much did they airbrush this photo? Is there a copy of Bossypants around here we can cross reference?
That dude who dies in House of Cards. Spoiler alert. Some unidentifiable blonde. And Adam Driver! Yes, I’m a bandwagoner. And yes he plays my favorite character on Girls. Well, it’s either Adam or Ray. Is it misogynist to favor the men on Girls over the women. Why are all the women so irredeemable. Are these the archetypes of our generation? Does everyone identify as a Hannah or a Jessa? I should hope not. But I’ll be damned if I haven’t heard a girl describe herself as a “Carrie Bradshaw” for the last time.
The book opens to a generic and overwrought premise. Father Foxman has kicked the bucket, and the four kids of the Foxman clan (the Altmans in the screen adaptation) gather to sit Shiva for a week and honor the dead while reenacting tropes of familial dysfunction. Jason Bateman’s character is naturally the protagonist, because when is he not? I mean, I know he played that creeper faux-cool dad in Juno, and maybe the periphery is a more fitting role for him because that movie seemed to actually receive some acclaim. Bateman’s wife has cheated on him with his boss. Each of his siblings have their own shitty problems. And by the end of 90 minutes / 330 pages we’re all going to laugh, cry, hug, and ultimately learn about ourselves and humanity. Because that’s what you do in dysfunctional family movies.
I don’t know what I was hoping to get from the book. I’d just spent a week with my own family, undoubtedly occupying the Bateman role with a wife who is off sleeping with somebody else now. Thankfully not my boss.
Jonathan Tropper (that’s the author’s name!) clearly understands humanity and family, and the writing, at least in the beginning, is punchy and insightful. But as the pages drag on the book suffers at the hands of its overly tropey premise, and if there’s some underlying message it hasn’t fully permeated my membrane. Something about life, and love, being messy. None of the relationships presented are clean couples. Everyone has needs they seek to fulfill via some third party.
And it turns out the mom is a lesbian? What? I mean, sure, whatever, but it’s just so tacked on and hamfisted, like the secret lesbian reveal in the dumpster-lit Ready Player One, a book which I’d implore you once again not to read. And yes, it was all over the Austin airport, because author Ernest Cline has had the gall to take up residence in my former stomping grounds of North Austin, which I’m going to interpret as some personal affront.
If the book was merely mediocre, the film is a travesty by virtue of wasting a wealth of acting talent. The film adaptation manages to miss on every possible emotional note, with the aplomb of a generic rom-com, sans romantic plotline.
The point being, when traveling, always bring more books than you think you’ll need.