For the uninitiated, reading a Jonathan Tropper is akin to taking a guided tour through the modern male psyche. Over the course of six seriocomic novels involving health hazards, career crossroads and relationship crises, including the highly-acclaimed This Is Where I Leave You and the just-released One Last Thing Before I Go, the author has cornered the market on the sensitive adult man. Toss in his penchant for throwing in realistic dialogue and sexually frank stories, and one realizes that the author is a millennial John Updike, a self-help era Philip Roth.
His protagonists have heretofore been men-children in their thirties still finding their way, but Drew Silver, the protagonist of Thing, is long past his prime. Silver, as he’s called, is a one-hit wonder who has gone to seed with booze, pills and women, and been almost as much of a non-presence in the life of his daughter, Casey, as he has sleepwalked through his own. He gets a wake-up call, however, when Casey comes to him with a problem at the same time he’s hit with a medical emergency of his own – all while counting down the remarriage of the ex-wife he left but never stopped loving.
“I wanted to write a book different from the other,” Tropper explains over the phone from his Westchester home. “In the other books, a character is getting away from a crisis as it is happening, but this is ten years after the crisis, and Silver didn’t deal with it well. The problem has already ruined him, so I wanted to look at a character for whom redemption is out of reach.”
Silver isn’t the only sign of maturation in the novel, however; Thing also marks a kind of narrative branching out for Tropper himself. This is the first novel in which he has written in the third person instead of first person voice, and done so from several characters’ perspectives, including Casey and Denise, Silver’s ex.
“I wanted to leave the main character and get into other characters’ heads,” the author says. “In the past, I’d start writing and the story would lend itself to first person, but it took multiple points-of-view to understand Silver. Denise’s and Casey’s point-of-view give you a better picture of who he is, and it makes all three people sympathetic. For example, Denise is not just the bitch ex-wife.”
For all the insight that Tropper brings to his characters, don’t go looking for autobiographical information in his books. He insists that his characters are just that, fictional inventions who reflect a lot of universal truths. “Nothing in these books has happened to me,” he says. “But when you create characters that come from you, that are the same station in life and age as you, you tap into yourself. It’s just method acting – I’m putting myself in different positions.”
And was it challenging writing from a female perspective for the first time? “I teach undergrad [at Manhattanville College], so I knew how to write Casey,” Tropper explains. “I knew ‘this is how she thinks and this is what she sounds like.’ I knew the voice.” He also acknowledged that the general timeline for writing one of his books is roughly one year, though he is part guide, part leader when it comes to his own character’s journey. “I know where I want the character to end up emotionally, but beyond that, I don’t know much. I’m good for the first 50 and the last 30-40 pages, and the rest gets shaken out as I go.”
Prolonging Tropper’s writing process is an increasingly busy schedule. In addition to writing his own film adaptations of several of his novels, he has also co-created (with David Shickler) “Banshee,” a television series set to debut on Cinemax in January 2013. “It’s a heightened drama about a man who, after a 15-year prison sentence, steals someone’s identity and becomes the sheriff of a small town in Pennsylvania Amish country.” The two will serve as executive producers, along with Alan Ball (of American Beauty, Six Feet Under and True Blood fame), Greg Yaitanes and Peter Macdissi.
Still, Tropper admits that despite his busy schedule, he hopes to return to the keyboard for his next novel before long. “I always want to be writing a book,” he says. While he says he knows thematically what his next subject will be, he’s still working on a coherent idea. “I’m still recovering from the last one,” he adds.
We should all suffer from a malady as rich and rewarding as Tropper’s is.
Further information about Jonathan Tropper and his novels can be found at http://jonathantropper.com/
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