In his moving, funny and compulsively readable second novel, The Book of Joe, Jonathan Tropper proves that while you can go home again, actually doing so can be colossally upsetting to all involved.

Joe Goffman is a rich one-book novelist living in New York. He gained his wealth and the unmitigated hatred of his small Connecticut hometown by skewering it unmercifully in his best-selling coming-of-age novel. That's fine with Joe, since he hadn't planned on going back, but when his estranged father lapses into a coma, he finds himself heading home to Bush Falls for the first time in 17 years.

Very quickly, Joe learns that small town hospitality doesn't extend to muckraking prodigals. In less than 24 hours, an ex-con former high school classmate wants to brain him with a chair, an elderly woman uses him as a soup bowl and the local book club wakes him by hurling copies of his novel at his father's house. Petty annoyances aside, Joe also must come to terms with a tragic chain of events that took place during his senior year of high school, mentor his pot-smoking nephew, help a friend wasting away from AIDS, and oh yes, win back the love of his life. Along the way, it becomes apparent that some of the villains of Joe's youth are not quite as bad as they once seemed. Also glaringly obvious is that Joe cannot find the youth he was in the unhappy man he's become.

Tropper leads Joe through a quest for a better self that is wise, honest and often downright hilarious. He erects a story of emotional truth that leaves you with a lump in your throat and a smile on your face. The newly formed production company of Hollywood Ÿber-couple Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt has reportedly optioned the film rights to The Book of Joe, which will likely spike Tropper's popularity. Such an honor would be well deserved, because when it comes to articulating the truth in fiction and writing about grown-ups belatedly becoming adults, Tropper is ahead of the pack.

Ian Schwartz reviews from his home in New York City.

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