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Arts and Entertainment

Everything Changes, but not Jonathan Tropper

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The jacket of Jonathan Tropper's new book, Everything Changes, shows a man on a tightrope, carrying an umbrella, trying to make his way across the perils of a woman's body. He seems to have gotten stuck right around her crotch. This is an unfortunately accurate depiction of what seems to have happened to Tropper's writing - it revolves around sex and very little else.

Everything Changes is supposed to be the story of a man whose life is turned upside down. The wealthy and boring Zachary King ends up leaving his job, his fiancee, reconciling with his estranged father, taking on an adopted kid, and banging (with the intention of marrying) his best friend's widow. Tropper's plotting is so transparent that we can tell this change is going to occur from the moment we first see King coldly appraising his ice-perfect fiancee, Hope.

The changes, which are supposed to feel like earth-shattering tremors, are more like someone shifting their weight from one leg to the other. Pages are spent on lustfully describing the desired widow - more pages on the physical pains of the aging middle-aged man, with blood in his urine. This is not as edgy as it sounds, but another device, worthy of nothing but a screenplay, to create artificial conflict and tame resolutions.

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After reading Everything Changes we had to go back to Tropper's smashing novel of just one year ago, The Book of Joe, to remember why we liked him in the first place.

That one is still worth reading. Joe is a writer who returns to the town he pilloried when his father dies. Hated, attacked, and threatened by all the townspeople, Joe ends up staying and falling in love with his high school sweetheart. Thematically, this book is much more edgy, also dealing with homophobia, AIDS, lost love and artistic stupor, and the way in which writers exploit their families for financial gain.

Joe's agent, the flamboyant Owen, won't let Joe write another book till he (Joe) gains more life experience. We found ourselves wishing that Tropper's agent had done the same thing. Everything Changes was published just one short year after The Book of Joe's breakout success. All it reflects in terms of growth is that Tropper still likes sex, and still has a problem with father figures.

We don't wish to imply that Tropper's styling is as bland as his plotting. It's hard to put down Tropper's writing, or even to get it out of your head after you're done. His male narrators are so self-deprecating and cute that even their cliches seem original. But just because something is hard to forget doesn't mean it's memorable. Everything Changes deserves to be skipped.