Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Reviews Reloaded: The Book of Joe

This article first appeared on East Niagara Post on November 11, 2014. It is repeated here as I work to put all my book reviews in one place. They will be posted on Thursdays and only be altered from the original in that I will add publisher information and pages. Hopefully, by revisiting these reviews, other people might find a book they'd like to pick up for their own enjoyment.

The Book of Joe - Jonathan Tropper
Bantam Publishing
338 Pages

Occasionally, I run across an author who I just can’t stop reading. After I am introduced to one of his or her works, I must find everything else he or she has written. They are just that outstanding. That is the case and point with Jonathan Tropper. This review is not of a new release, but I sincerely felt the need to review one of his books.

A couple months ago, I was forwarded an email listing the 14 books I “had” to read before they were made into movies. On that list was "Where I Leave You" by Jonathan Tropper. A movie starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, based on this book, came out in September. I read the book in a single day and made a special trip to the Lockport Library to see what else Mr. Tropper had written. I quickly found five other books by the same author, and his second book, "The Book of Joe," went home with me.

The Book of Joe is a fabulous read. This is the story of a man who lived in a small town in Connecticut, much like Lockport, and left it behind when he graduated from high school. Joe Goffman, once he leaves, decides to write the next, great American novel. Like most first novelists, Goffman used many, many aspects of his personal life to write his story. His included several aspects of the lives of his fellow townsfolk, not always in a flattering light. His novel was so successful that it was made into a movie.

Unfortunately, his former neighbors did not appreciate the way Goffman had portrayed them in the book.

Goffman had never returned to his former hometown after leaving. That is, until his father had a stroke and was not expected to live. Fifteen years after leaving Bush Falls in his taillights, Joe Goffman heads back to see his father one last time. Upon arrival, he is not met with a welcome mat, no hometown hero who made it big. Instead, he is greeted with sidelong glances and outright hostility. The first stop in town results with a milkshake poured over his head. Justifiably, most of his old neighbors view him as a pariah.

Aside from dealing with his father’s crisis, Goffman also has to deal with the fact that his father and brother were local basketball heroes in their youth. They were revered while he is reviled. He has to tiptoe through the mine field laid by his own work, now showcased for all time as a blockbuster film, and confront his own anger. Most of the time, this protagonist is also the antagonist – his own worst enemy.

Will he overcome the animosity, or will he scurry back to New York City, ignoring the problems he has created?

With this book, Jonathan Tropper has written a wonderful story that resonates with all people. His characters are rich and well thought out. They are very believable and are faced with decisions we all face every day. Tropper’s novels are not a Utopian story where it all works out in the end. The characters don’t always make the right choices, and sometimes they make just plain bad ones. It’s something we all do and it helps us grow as people. Tropper does this with his characters and it makes the story that much richer.

This novel is outrageously funny. There were times when I was laying bed reading when I chuckled out loud. To me that is the sign of a really well written story. What I really liked, though, was that the ending wasn’t a picture-perfect, fairytale ending. There was still enough doubt left to make it realistic. Though Goffman resolved some of the conflicts in his life, not all were immediately settled. That’s the way it is in real life.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper. I have already been back to the library to collect the next work printed after this one. I hope that Everything Changes lives up to the same expectations. So far, all indications point to yes.

Craig Bacon likes to read. Sometimes he likes reading more than talking to people — especially after reading Facebook.