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A Novel

Written by Jonathan TropperAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jonathan Tropper



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On Sale: March 30, 2004
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-440-33476-7
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell

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Synopsis|Excerpt|Reader Reviews

Synopsis

Right after high school, Joe Goffman left sleepy Bush Falls, Connecticut and never looked back. Then he wrote a novel savaging everything in town, a novel that became a national bestseller and a huge hit movie. Fifteen years later, Joe is struggling to avoid the sophomore slump with his next novel when he gets a call: his father's had a stroke, so it's back to Bush Falls for the town's most famous pariah. His brother avoids him, his former classmates beat him up, and the members of the book club just hurl their copies of Bush Falls at his house. But with the help of some old friends, Joe discovers that coming home isn't all bad—and that maybe the best things in life are second chances.

Fans of Nick Hornby and Jennifer Weiner will love this book, by turns howling funny, fiercely intelligent, and achingly poignant. As evidenced by The Book of Joe's success in both the foreign and movie markets, Jonathan Tropper has created a compelling, incredibly resonant story.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

Chapter One



Just a few scant months after my mother's suicide, I walked into the garage, looking for my baseball glove, and discovered Cindy Posner on her knees, animatedly performing fellatio on my older brother, Brad. He was leaned up against our father's tool rack, the hammers and wrenches jingling musically on their hooks like Christmas bells as he rocked gently back and forth, staring up at the ceiling with a curiously bored expression. His jeans and boxers were bunched up around his knees, his hand resting absently on her bobbing head as she went about her surprisingly noisy oral ministrations. I stood there transfixed until Brad, sensing my arrival, looked down from the ceiling and our eyes met. There was no alarm in his eyes, no embarrassment at having been caught in so compromising a position, but only the same look of tired resignation he always seemed to have where I was concerned. That's right. I'm getting a blow job in the garage. It's a safe bet you never will. Cindy, whose back was to me,

noticed me a few seconds later and became instantly hysterical, cursing and shrieking at me as I beat a hasty, if somewhat belated retreat. I was thirteen years old at the time.

It's entirely possible that Cindy would have handled herself with a bit more aplomb had she known that seventeen years later the incident would be immortalized in the first chapter of the best-selling autobiographical novel that I would write and, as with most successful books, in the inevitable movie that would follow shortly thereafter. By then she was no longer Cindy Posner, but Cindy Goffman, having married Brad in their senior year of college, and I think it's fair to say that this inclusion in my book did nothing to improve our already tenuous relationship. The book is titled Bush Falls, after the small Connecticut town where I grew up, a term I use loosely, since the jury's still out on whether I've actually ever grown up at all.

By now you've certainly heard of Bush Falls, or no doubt seen the movie, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Kirsten Dunst, and did some pretty decent box office. Or maybe you read about the major controversy it caused back in my hometown, where they even went so far as to put together a class action libel suit against me that never went anywhere. Either way, the book was a runaway best-seller about two and a half years ago, and for a little while there, I became a minor celebrity.

Any schmuck can be unhappy when things aren't going well, but it takes a truly unique variety of schmuck, a real innovator in the schmuck field, to be unhappy when things are going as great as they are for me. At thirty-four, I'm rich, successful, have sex on a fairly regular basis, and live in a three-bedroom luxury apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. This should be ample reason to feel that I have the world by its proverbial short hairs, yet I've recently developed the sneaking suspicion that underneath it all I am one sad, lonely son of a bitch, and have been for some time.

While there is no paucity of women in my life these days, it nevertheless seems that every relationship I've had in the two and a half years since the publication of Bush Falls has lasted almost exactly eight weeks, following the same essential flight pattern. In the first week I pull out all the stops—fancy restaurants, concerts, Broadway shows, and trendy nightclubs—modestly avoiding any high-minded banter concerning the literary world in favor of current events, movies, and celebrity gossip, which are of course the real currency in the New York dating scene, even if no one will admit it. Not that being a celebrated author isn't worth something, but stories about Miramax parties or how you hung out on the set with Leo and Kirsten will get you laid much faster and by a better caliber of woman. Weeks two and three are generally the best, the time you'd like to bottle and store, primarily due to the endorphin rush of fresh sex. At some point in the fourth week, I fall in love, briefly considering the possibility that this could be The One, and then everything pretty much goes to shit in slow motion. I waffle, I vacillate, I get insecure, I come on too strong. I conduct little psychological experiments on myself or the woman involved. You get the picture. This goes on for a couple of painfully awkward weeks, and then we both spend week seven in the fervent hope that the relationship will magically dissolve on its own, through an act of god or spontaneous combustion—anything to avoid having to actually navigate the tediously perilous terrain of a full-blown breakup. The last week is spent "taking some time," which ends with a final, perfunctory phone call finalizing the arrangement and resolving any outstanding logistics. I'll drop the bag and Donna Karan sweater you left in my apartment with the doorman, you can keep the books I lent you, thanks for the memories, no hard feelings, let's stay friends, et cetera, ad nauseam.

I know it bespeaks poor character to blame others for your problems, but I'm fairly certain this is all Carly's fault. Carly Diamond was my high school girlfriend, the first—and, to date, only—woman I've ever loved. We were together for our entire senior year, and loved each other with the fierce, timeless conviction of teenagers. That was the same year that all the terrible events described in my novel occurred, and my relationship with her was the lone bright spot in my dismally expanding universe.

If you want to get technical about it, we never actually broke up. We graduated high school and went to different colleges, Carly up to Harvard and me down to NYU. We tried to do the long-distance thing, but my adamant refusal to return to the Falls for our mutual vacations made it difficult, and over time we simply grew apart, but we never formally dissolved our relationship. After college, Carly came to New York to study journalism, at which point we embarked on one of those long, messy postgraduate friendships where you have just enough sex to thoroughly confuse the hell out of each other and ultimately, through a sequence of poor timing and third-party complications, fuck the life out of what was once the purest thing you'd ever known.

We still loved each other then, that much was obvious, but while Carly seemed ready to reclaim our relationship, I kept finding reasons to remain uncommitted. No matter how much I loved her—and I did—I was constantly comparing the timbre of our relationship with the raw beauty, the sense of discovery, that had attended our every moment when we were seventeen. By the time I finally understood the colossal nature of my mistake, it was too late and Carly was gone. Losing her once was sad but understandable. Carelessly discarding the second chance afforded me by the fates required such a potent mixture of arrogance and stupidity that it had to have been cultivated, because I'm fairly certain I wasn't always such a complete asshole.

I've never forgiven myself for the head games I played with her during her years in New York, wooing her whenever I felt her slipping away and then pulling back the minute I felt secure again. I allowed her unwavering belief in us to sustain me even at times when I didn't share it, leading her along with promises, both spoken and implied but never fulfilled. By the time I finally began to understand how badly I'd been using her, I had used her up completely. She left New York heartbroken and disgusted, returning to the Falls to accept a position as managing editor of The Minuteman, the town's local paper. Every time I think I've gotten over her, I find myself waking in the middle of the night, pining for her with such desperation that you would think it was only yesterday and not ten years ago that she left.

Since then not a day goes by that I am not haunted by a vague but powerful sense of regret, every woman I date serving as a reminder of what I allowed myself to lose. So in a way, it's because of Carly that I'm alone in bed in the middle of the night when the phone rings, its electronic wail piercing the insulated silence of my apartment like a siren. Generally speaking, when people call you at two in the morning, it won't be good news. My first thought, as I swim up through the dense wormwood haze of alcohol-induced sleep, is that it has to be Natalie, my borderline psychotic ex-girlfriend, calling to scream at me. I don't know what damage I could have possibly done to her apparently fragile psyche in eight weeks, but her latest therapist has convinced her that she still has significant unresolved issues with me and that it behooves her, from a mental wellness perspective, to call me, day or night, whenever it occurs to her to remind me what an insensitive jerk I was. The calls started about four months ago and now come fairly regularly, both at home and on my cell phone, thirty-second installments of furious invective with abundant smatterings of vulgarity, requiring absolutely no participation from me. If it happens that I'm unavailable, Nat is perfectly content to leave her colorful harangues on my voice mail. She's always been drawn to radical therapy, much as lately I seem to be drawn to women who require it.

The phone keeps ringing. I don't know if it's been two rings or ten; I just know it isn't stopping. I roll onto my side and rub my face vigorously, trying to coax the sleep from my head. The skin of my cheeks feels like putty, loose and fleshy, as if the night's prior excesses have dramatically aged me. I went out with Owen earlier, and, as usual, we got supremely shit-faced. Owen Hobbs, agent extraordinaire, is my emissary not only to the literary establishment but to all conceivable manner of chaos and debauchery. I never drink except when I'm with him, and then I drink like him, voraciously and with great ceremony. He's made me rich, and he gets fifteen percent, which has turned out to be a better foundation for a friendship than you might think, usually worth the thrashing hangover that always follows what he terms our "celebrations." A night with Owen inevitably takes the shape of a downward spiral upon which in retrospect I can identify only a handful of the spins and turns as I nurse my wounded body back into the realm where consciousness and sobriety rudely intersect. And while I'm still loosely ensconced in that precariously optimistic place where drunkenness has departed and the hangover is still mulling over its options, I nevertheless feel nauseous and off-kilter.

The phone. Without moving my head from where it lies embedded in my pillow, I reach out in the general direction of my night table, knocking over some magazines, an open bottle of Aleve, and a half-filled mug of water, which splashes mutely on the plush ecru carpeting. The cordless is actually on the floor to begin with, and when I finally locate it and hoist it up to my immobile head, cold droplets of spilled water seep into my ear canal like slugs.

"Hello?" It's a woman's voice. "Joe?"

"Who's this," I say, lifting my head slightly so as to move the mouthpiece somewhere in the general vicinity of my mouth. It's not Nat, which means some speaking on my part might be required.

"It's Cindy."

"Cindy," I repeat carefully.

"Your sister-in-law."

"Oh." That Cindy.

"Your father's had a stroke." My brother's wife blurts this out like a premature punch line. In most families, such monumental news would merit a thoughtfully orchestrated presentation carefully constructed to minimize shock while facilitating gradual acceptance. Such grave news would probably warrant a personal delivery from the blood relative, in this case my older brother, Brad. But I am family to Brad and my father only in a strictly legal sense. On those rare occasions when they do acknowledge my existence, it's out of some vague sense of civic responsibility, like paying taxes or jury duty.

"Where's Brad?" I say, keeping my voice just above a whisper as people who live alone do needlessly at night.

"He's over at the hospital," Cindy says dully. She's never liked me, but that isn't entirely her fault. I've never actually given her any reason to.

"What happened?"

"Your father's in a coma," she says matter-of-factly, as if I've asked her the time. "It's quite serious. They don't know if he's going to make it."

"Don't sugarcoat it, now," I mutter, sitting up in my bed, which causes pockets of violence to erupt among the trillions of neurons rallying like soccer fans in my left temple.

There follows a pause. "What?" Cindy says. I remind myself that my particular style of irony is usually lost on her. I take a quick emotional inventory, searching for any reaction to the news that my father might be dying: grief, shock, anger, denial. Something.

"Nothing," I say.

Another uncomfortable pause. "Well, Brad said you shouldn't come tonight but that you should meet him at the hospital tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," I repeat dumbly, looking at the clock again. It already is tomorrow.

"You can stay with us, or you can stay at your father's place. Actually, his house is closer to the hospital."

"Okay." Somewhere in my diminishing stupor, it registers that my presence is being requested or, rather, presumed. Either way, it's highly unusual.

"Well, which is it? Do you want to stay with us or at your dad's?"

A more compassionate person might wait for the shock to wear off before pressing ahead with the petty logistics of the whole thing, but Cindy has little in the way of compassion where I'm concerned.

"Whatever," I say. "Whatever's better for you guys."

"Well, it's usually a madhouse here, with the kids and all," she says. "I think you'll be happier in your old house."

"Okay."

"Your father's in Mercy Hospital. Do you need directions?" Her question is quite possibly a deliberate dig at the fact that I haven't been back to the Falls in almost seventeen years.

"Have they moved it?"

"No."

"Then I should be fine."

I can hear her shallow breathing as another uncomfortable silence grows like a tumor over the phone line. Cindy, three years older than me, was the archetypal popular girl in Bush Falls High School. With lustrous dark hair and an exquisite body sculpted to perfection in her cheerleading drills, she was unquestionably the most universally employed muse of the wet dream among the teenaged boys in Bush Falls at that time. I myself made often and effective use of her in my fantasies, fueled in no small part by what I saw in the garage that day. But now she's thirty-seven and a mother of three, and even over the phone, you can hear the varicose veins in her voice.

Table of Contents

If you've ever thought it would be fun to write a book slamming all the people in your hometown, think again! As much as I felt sorry for the guy, who has to return to his hometown when his father has a stroke, I laughed every time he woke up to the sound of his own book hitting the front of his family house. Both hysterical and poignant, The Book of Joe is a charmer.”—Thea R., Sioux Falls, SD

“The story makes you laugh and cry at the same time. The reader wants to root for the hero, but at the same time smack him in the head for his behavior. I probably would not have read this if I had not won it, but I am glad that I did because I not only found a book that I thoroughly enjoyed, I found an author that I would not hesitate to read again. I so enjoyed the book that I wanted to write a review that I could post on amazon.com as soon as the book comes out.” —Jennifer M., Decatur, IL

“Jonathan Tropper has created a stunning piece of fiction.  I felt as if I was part of the story right from the beginning.  I could feel Joe’s emotions and wanted to wrap my arms around him in comfort.  There are many touching moments in The Book of Joe…there is a most profound scene at the end.  I dare you to try and put it down once you’ve begun reading.  You just can’t.”—Patricia F., Strongsville, OH 

One can compare The Book of Joe with the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Sometimes one has to lose everything before he appreciates what he has had.”—Joy F., Chatsworth, GA

This book is very realistic in the way average people feel, think, and deal with real-life issues. It is so easy to relate to the characters. I found myself crying over the bittersweet relationship between Joe and his friend Wayne, cheering for Joe and his high school sweetheart Carly to get together, praying that he will finally be able to communicate with his father and brother.”—Bonie S., Los Angeles, CA

“There is a lot to make you smile here–and much more to make you think! The careful revelations about Joe’s past are presented like a good mystery, and Joe’s teenage nephew is a wondrous blend of rebellion and sanity. I thoroughly enjoyed it.” —Lynn B., Klamath Falls, OR

“What a delightful read! I would welcome the chance to revisit my childhood and I think most readers will be able to identify with Joe’s experiences. Thanks for the opportunity to read the book and pass the word.”—Bonnie S., Phoenix, NY

“I was hooked from the first paragraph. Jonathan Tropper has captured teenage angst, small-town life and high school friendships and written a wonderful book. His prose draws you in and makes you a part of what Joe Goffman is feeling. Having grown up in a small town, I could relate to the feelings Joe has about returning home to find everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. I really didn't want it to end. The Book of Joe should be a bestseller. I'm going to recommend it to all my friends.” —Becky H., Omaha, NE

“I enjoyed finding out about Joe's teenage years, and it was interesting to see how much he had changed, but also how much he stayed the same. The story showed the importance of friendship, no matter what. I never had a dull moment reading it. It showed me that you can never really go home again, but that some things always stay the same. I enjoyed this story and am looking forward to reading more of Jonathan Tropper's books.”—Roberta S., Marion, KY

The Book of Joe is quite the comic book–I laughed out loud. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a fun and entertaining time.” –Sue D., St. Charles, MO

“When I started The Book of Joe, I imagined it was a good book for the male members of my family to read. As I read more, I didn't want to leave the characters. By the end of the book, I was emotionally hooked! I'll definitely be recommending this to my book-reading buddies—and to my sons.”—Julie G., Colorado Springs, CO

"Home is where the heart is and Joe finds his heart at home again. The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper is an excellent read."—Ray T., Alexandria, KY

The Book of Joe is the best book I have read in a long time. I will recommend it to everyone I know!” —Kelly P., Toronto, Canada

I highly recommend that all readers take the time to meet Joe.”—Audrey K., Pittsburgh, PA
Jonathan Tropper|Author Q&A

About Jonathan Tropper

Jonathan Tropper - The Book of Joe

Photo © Spencer Tropper

Jonathan Tropper is the author of Everything Changes, The Book of Joe, which was a BookSense selection, and Plan B. He lives with his wife, Elizabeth, and their children in Westchester, New York, where he teaches writing at Manhattanville College. How to Talk to a Widower was optioned by Paramount Pictures, and Everything Changes and The Book of Joe are also in development as feature films.

Author Q&A

You capture the mixed blessings of adolescence— as well as the environment of a small townperfectly in The Book of Joe. You grew up in Riverdale, New York, which is very urban. How did you come to understand small town life so well?

Riverdale is actually a strange mix of urban and suburban.  And while, on it's own, it doesn't seem like a small town in the classic sense, there are sub-communities, built around schools or synagogues or churches that function exactly like small towns;  You see familiar faces wherever you go, and in many cases you know more about them than you should, thanks to the gossip mill, and in many cases they probably know more about you than you would like.  Everything you do is colored with this awareness of the audience of your community, and that is the essence of small town life.  Small towns are a vital staple of popular fiction, from Stephen King to Richard Russo, and I think the reason the concept is so universal is that we all live in small towns of our own making.

Which character(s) in The Book of Joe do you identify the most with? How much
if anyof the book is autobiographical?

The Book of Joe's story and all its characters are completely fictitious.  Obviously, there are certain things Joe is going through that originate from my own storehouse of anxieties and neuroses.  He's discovering as he gets older that the things he thought would fulfill him are leaving him empty, and the things he was adamant about not needing are suddenly the only things he really wants.  That being said, I also relate heavily to the character of Jared, Joe's nephew, who is angry over things he can't quite articulate, and wants to be regarded differently than he is, but has no idea how or why, and instead retreats into an ironic sulk.  I think a lot of him comes from my own teenage years.  So Jared and Joe both have aspects of me from different times in my life, and only at this moment has it occurred to me that both of their names start with 'J', just like mine.  Go figure.

Much of The Book of Joe alternates between the present-day storyline—Joe returning to his hometown because of his father's condition—and the "past" storyline that shares what happened when Joe was a teenager. Did you write the "flashback" scenes first or were you writing in the sequence that we are reading?


It probably would have made sense to write the back story in one sitting and then break it up, but that's not how it happened for me.  This story unfolded very organically, with only a flimsy outline, so while I had a basic idea of what had happened back in 1986, I only fully realized it as I wrote each flashback.  However, once the book was completed, I did go back and reconfigure the flashbacks, moving some parts around where I though they would balance out better with the events happening in the present, or to better maintain the level of suspense as the story moved forward.
 
The Book of Joe has a strong voice. You mastered a conversational style, which makes the reader feel as if he/she is hearing the book, rather than reading it. Have other people told you this?

Yes.  It's been very gratifying, actually, because I've always been very character driven, and the fact that people respond to Joe's voice mean that he's coming across as a very real person.

We know that Tom Cavanagh, the star of the television show, Ed, is the narrator on the audiobook of The Book of Joe. His voice is perfect. What did you think when you heard he was going to do this reading?


Tom was actually my suggestion.  'ED' came out while I was writing The Book of Joe, and at first I was upset because it sounded so similar to my own premise that I was worried people would think of it as a knock-off.  But the show had great writing, and Tom has this great delivery, ironic without any nastiness, quirky, sensitive and funny as hell when the moment demands it.  I was thrilled when he agreed to do it, and he did a fantastic job.  One of the most surreal moments of the whole Book of Joe experience was walking into the recording studio while he was doing it and hearing my words being spoken in his voice.  It sounded exactly like I pictured it would.

Peer pressure, family relationships and self-confidence are all major themes/issues in The Book of Joe. What do you want readers to take with them upon finishing the novel?


I'd like them to simply think that it's never too late to make positive changes in your life, or in yourself.  It sounds kind of hokey when I say it like that, but there it is.  Joe goes from being a sullen, selfish loner, a self described asshole, to suddenly seeing the value in caring for others.  We all carry around a certain degree of anger or resentment toward members of our family, and letting go of it is never easy, but infinitely rewarding.  I actually heard from a sound engineer on the West Coast who worked on the audio book, and when he was done he called his father for the first time in over four years.  So I think forgiveness is a big theme in this book too; seeking it and giving it.

In The Book of Joe, Joe finds himself having trouble with his second manuscript. Did you find this to be the case in your own life after your first novel, Plan B, was published?

Actually, I did take much longer with the second book.  Once I'd become a published novelist, the opportunity for failure seemed that much greater.  Now it was mine to lose, and what if the first time had been a fluke.  Thankfully, The Book of Joe has gotten a fantastic reception in the industry, but that only serves to make me crazy with the book I'm writing now.  I'll always find a reason to worry and struggle.  It's the curse of every novelist, I think.  If I were happy, I'd be miserable.

The relationship between Joe and his agent is an interesting one. How much does this mirror the relationship between you and your own agent?


My agent is only like Owen in that he's extremely sharp and blunt.  He'll tell me in a flash what he likes and hates about whatever it is I've just written, which makes him a great gauntlet to run before I show anything to the publisher.  So I do count on him to tell me the truth, even when it's painful.  However, we're both family men, so there's not a whole lot of wild drinking and partying going on, and all the more colorful aspects of Owen, the arrogance and debauchery, are purely fictional. 

The Book of Joe has recently been optioned for film adaptation by Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Are there any updates you can share with us about this?

Miguel Arteta (The Good Girl) has signed on to direct, and Doug Wright (Quills, I am My Own Wife) is in the middle of writing the screenplay.  I'm thrilled that Warner Brothers has attracted such immensely talented artists to the project, I think it bodes well.  Beyond that, I pretty much try to stay out of their way, although I do think Tom Cavanagh would make a great Wayne and I suggested that to one of the producers.

You received a master's degree from the creative writing program at NYU. When did you begin writing?

The first story I remember writing was in 4th grade, a sci-fi thing that was a blatant rip-off of Jason of Star Command.  In college I began writing short stories and won some contest, but never really admitted to myself or to anyone else that it was what I wanted to do.  instead I just wrote these snide little articles for the undergraduate newspaper.  I wrote my first novel while I was in the NYU program, and it was pretty incoherent, but there were sections that were really good, and I saw that I could maybe make a go of it.  A year or so later I was on a flight from LA to NY and saw Robert Downey, Jr., and the idea for Plan B hit me.  I wrote it in about eight months, and landed an agent a few months after that.

What writers have influenced you?


Richard Russo, Jay Mcinerney, Brett Easton Ellis, Tom Perrotta, Tim Sandlin, Kurt Vonnegut, Joyce Carol Oats, Stephen King.  In more recent years, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, Dave Eggers, Alice Sebold and Augusten Burroughs. 
 
What are you working on now and when can readers expect to see it?

I'm finishing a novel about a long absent father who attempts to reinsert himself into the dysfunctional lives of his now grown children.  It's funny and sad and, I hope, ultimately uplifting.  It is scheduled forSpring of 2005 from Delacorte. 

Praise

Praise

"A beautifully crafted book of enormous heart, humility, wit, honesty, and vulnerability. You want to call your friends at 3:00 AM and read whole passages out loud. You want to press it into the hands of strangers. You cannot stop thinking about it because it has rearranged your very molecules. You know that kind of book? This is that kind of book. The Book of Joe is utterly magnificent. I wish I'd written it myself."—Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors

"The Book of Joe is an elegiac, wickedly observant look at a small town and its secrets. In Jonathan Tropper's highly readable novel, the problem isn't that you can't go home again, it's that eventually you have to, whether you like it or not."—Tom Perrotta, author of Election and Joe College

"A sweet, deft and sentimental coming-of-age-at-34 story. .... [Tropper's] humor keeps his tale buoyant."—Daily News (NY)

"The Book of Joe will make you laugh and cry. Tropper has a very readable style, and Joe is a character you can connect with, warts and all."—Associated Press

Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

By turns wickedly funny and achingly poignant, The Book of Joe proves that you can go home again . . . even if you have to battle the bullies of your youth.

Joe Goffman escaped oppressive Bush Falls, Connecticut, as soon as he could. But he could never get his hometown out of his mind, inspiring him to write a novel savaging everything and everyone there. When the novel became a huge bestseller, and an even more popular movie, he knew he’d never be able to set foot in Bush Falls again. Now, fifteen years later, he has no choice. Joe’s father is gravely ill, so the town’s most famous pariah must return. Joe is finally ready to face his past, and with the help of some old friends, he may actually learn something . . . if he manages to survive the homecoming.

In the tradition of Nick Hornby and Jennifer Weiner, Jonathan Tropper has created a book that will cause you to laugh and pause to reflect. The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading of Jonathan Tropper’s The Book of Joe. We hope they will enrich your experience of this captivating novel.

About the Guide

THE BOOK OF JOE
A Novel
Jonathan Tropper

About the Author

Jonathan Tropper lives in Westchester County, New York, with his wife and two children. He is also the author of Plan B, and is at work on another novel for Bantam Dell. The Book of Joe is currently in development at Warner Bros. Studios. Visit Jonathan Tropper at www.jonathantropper.com.

Praise for The Book of Joe:

“A beautifully crafted book of enormous heart, humility, wit, honesty, and vulnerability. You want to call your friends at 3:00 a.m. and read whole passages out loud. . . . You know that kind of book? This is that kind of book. I wish I’d written it myself.”
—Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors

“An elegiac, wickedly observant look at a small town and its secrets. In Jonathan Tropper’s highly readable novel, the problem isn’t that you can’t go home again, it’s that eventually you have to, whether you like it or not.”
—Tom Perrotta, author of Election and Joe College

“[A] winner of a book . . . like Richard Russo or Michael Chabon at their best. . . . Read The Book of Joe and you too will laugh and cry (and cringe) as you watch Joe Goffman return to his hometown to make things right.”
—Rita Ciresi, author of Pink Slip and Remind Me Again Why I Married You



From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Guides

1. Homecoming lies at the heart of the novel. How has this theme played out in your own experience? How prominently does your past shape your current life?

2. The opening sentence of The Book of Joe combines references to sex and death. In what way do these powerful experiences recur together throughout the novel? How does Joe develop an understanding of mortality and sexuality during his adolescence?

3. The 1980s form a colorful backdrop to the novel, especially in terms of pop culture and lyrics. Can time period be considered a character in The Book of Joe? In what other books? If so, how would you define and describe it?

4. The novel’s title echoes the biblical Book of Job. Though Joe himself would probably reject that comparison, does he have much in common with Job?

5. What does The Book of Joe indicate about how communities label and treat outsiders? Why were the Cougars the most highly regarded male figures in Bush Falls for so many generations?

6. Joe readily admits that he embellished actual events in writing Bush Falls—after all, that’s a fiction writer’s prerogative. But his experience parallels the real-life quandaries of many novelists who are criticized when drawing on their own memories to inspire fiction. Was it unethical for Joe to use Bush Falls in the way he did? Why does he have such a hard time replicating the success of Bush Falls with his second novel?

7. What techniques does Jonathan Tropper employ to balance his comedic and somber tones?

8. Discuss the spectrum of parenting offered in The Book of Joe. How does Joe’s family compare to that of his friends? What emotional scars do he and his brother bear from their mother’s suicide? Is Owen a father figure to Joe, and if so, how would you characterize his “fathering?”

9. Referring to his brother’s bar mitzvah, Joe muses that by missing out on his own coming-of-age celebration, he never became a man in the eyes of Judaism. Is Joe in fact any less mature or “less of a man” than his brother?

10. What does Joe’s nephew Jared indicate about the way times have changed in Bush Falls, and in American adolescence in general? Why do you think the author gave Jared such a prominent role in the novel?

11. What ultimately caused Sammy’s death? Is Coach Dugan’s attempt to make amends during Wayne’s funeral warranted—and sufficient?

12. When Joe discovers the hardcover copies of his book, along with a movie poster, prominently displayed in his father’s room, what message was conveyed between father and son?

13. Discuss the novel’s portrayal of second chances. Are Joe and his brother liberated from the pains of their past? What causes Brad’s marriage and career to fall on hard times? How will the Goffman family use its second chances?

14. What does Joe’s Mercedes signify throughout the novel? How do his feelings about the car reflect the personal changes he undergoes?


  • The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper
  • January 25, 2005
  • Fiction
  • Bantam
  • $16.00
  • 9780385338103

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