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In New Rochelle, I asked Tropper to play the piano for me. He told me to make a request and I went with “Piano Man.” Tropper knows it by heart.
Born and raised in the upper-middle-class Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, a 20-minute drive away, Tropper relishes the suburban normalcy of New Rochelle — especially now that he is newly divorced from his wife, a former nursery school teacher with whom he says he maintains an amicable relationship. She lives just a few blocks away, so the children don’t have to travel far during pass-off; Dassi Lewis, the sister he used to comfort at sleepaway camp, lives three doors down and is helping him through the transition. Her kids go to the same school as her brother’s, and all the children attend services together. Tropper’s parents still live in Riverdale.
Although Tropper’s parents are big readers, they are not major creative types that he could turn to for off-the-beaten-path career guidance. Yeshiva University, where he earned his undergraduate degree in English literature, was not exactly the prime spot to network with aspiring novelists. He received a master’s degree in creative writing at New York University.
Were there were any professors who thought he would be the Next Big Thing?
“None,” he answered emphatically, after a small laugh.
Despite the lack of encouragement, Tropper had a stubborn fantasy of making a literary splash, even as he dutifully worked for his father’s company, Fieldstone Displays, which later merged with Pacific Northern. He worked in marketing for watch companies such as Tag Heuer and Omega. If you search the Internet, you can still read some of the press releases he wrote.
Tropper’s first published book, “Plan B,” a 2001 romp about four 30-year-old college buddies kidnapping a fifth, initially sold bupkis. The big turning point came in 2005, when “Everything Changes,” his third novel, was sold to Tobey Maguire’s film production company. Finally he could leave the family business, and that made Tropper an anomaly in a family that was more conversant with the commercial than with the artistic side of the American Jewish experience. His grandfather, Abraham Tropper, founded Central Notion in 1947 to distribute safety pins, snaps and hooks and eyes. According to Crain’s New York Business he was still showing up at his office in 2008, at age 97.
“He’s 101 now, still around,” Tropper said with a laugh. “Not going to the office anymore, though!”
For a while, as far as Tropper himself was concerned, “showing up to the office” meant a daily commute to Steven Spielberg’s summer mansion in the Hamptons. He smiled ruefully at the memory. “In 2009 I had gotten the rights back to my novel “The Book of Joe,” and I decided to adapt it myself. On the strength of that, Fox 2000 hired me to adapt the Mary Chase play ‘Harvey,’ which of course was the basis for the Jimmy Stewart movie. It fell apart, but who can regret that?”