The book is smart and witty, fast paced, yet thoughtful, and thought provoking. The scenario is sitting shiva. Judd, the second of four children, is not lucky. Or at least he is not on a good run. He has discovered his wife of nine years in bed with his boss. So he is losing his spouse and his job in one fell swoop. Then his father dies. And while his family has not been the least bit religiously observant, nor are they particularly close, they find themselves sitting shiva at the dying request of Dad.
Shiva is the mourning period, traditionally observed by the parents, spouse, siblings, and children of the deceased. During Shiva (which means ‘seven’), traditionally a seven day period beginning after the funeral, the family stays home to focus on their grief, remember their loved one, and receive visitors.
Sitting Shiva is the tradition of mourning in the Jewish religion. Gathering together as a community is at the core of sitting Shiva, just as it is at the core of many Jewish traditions. The strength and support of friends, family and neighbors, during sitting Shiva, plays a key role in helping the bereaved get through the process of grieving.
Which is not so much what happens in this book. Much like what is portrayed in the German film “Go for Zucker!”, sitting shiva is less about grief and consolation and more about making the remaining relatives live under one roof for a week and deal with each other. The idea appears to be that you get an opportunity to air grievances, make amends, and move forward. The family is repaired, or at the very least, a few bandaids have been pulled off and the wounds examined. At the end of the week the family disperses and the business of grieving the lost loved one can begin in earnest.
Judd is a true middle child. His older brother was the golden boy, his youngest brother the charismatic screw up. His sister is the family glue, but she is not a kinder, gentler glue. She is in-your-face honest, more passive aggressive than humorous, but funny none-the-less. The father is a stoic hard worker and the mother is an unconventional nightmare (hitting a little close to home for me)–she is a psychiatrist who wrote a book while her children were still in school, delineating all the embarrassing life stages they have gone through and offering advice on handling everything from toilet training to puberty.So, in his family, Judd is not the smartest, the most athletic, the funniest, the most charismatic, none-of-the-above. He is the second child in every sense of the word. Not a stand out at anything and not enough like either parent to have a true alliance or war with. As the week progresses, Judd’s childhood losses and adolescent demons rear their heads and are discarded or mulled over.