Finally free from his nightmare marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of online dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future that is wildly different from the one he imagined, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife, Rachel, suddenly disappears.
While Toby tries to find out what happened – juggling work, kids and his new, app-assisted sexual popularity – his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if he ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place . . .
I thought Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner was a fascinating look into the breakdown of a marriage and the emotional connections we have with friends.
More than this, it was a look at the flawed individuals within that marriage and how they seemed destined to part, because they never reallyk new the person they were married to. Apportioning blame is easy in these situations, our friendships often force us to take sides when splits take place, but is that because we wear blinkers, or because our loyalties are subject to our own natural byis to our friends? Taffy Brodesser-Akner asks us to look past our initial perceptions of both Toby and Rachael and does so in a way that will flip the readers initial assumptions upside down.
I have seen mixed reviews for Fleishman Is In Trouble and I can understand why! The characters are not always likeable, but for me that is what makes the story work, your not necessarily going to like Toby or Rachel, your feelings like mine might fluctuate as you read the novel, but for me they were equal parts fascinating, annoying, loveable and that is why I found them compelling. They never bored me, I enjoyed finding each one equal parts selfish, entertaining, heartbreakingly wounded by events and yet loving and kind. They embodied a multitude of characteristics, making them rounded and human. Toby was capable of unconditional love for his children, yet often found it hard to be so within his adult relationships! Within each was encapsulated the variety and wonder of the human condition in all its marvellous variety. Each character the writer created within Fleishman Is In Trouble could be someone you or I know. Toby and his friends have a capacity to create chaos from seemingly simple acts and they often seem unable to consider other’s needs. So self-involved that they misread the intentions of others, but their capacity for love and ability to change, makes them feel heartachingly real and that is why they will remain within my imagination for years to come.
The writing is biting, witty and perceptive. Savage in its portrayal of modern life, the need for a perfect marriage, the unflinching pursuit of career and money as a mark of social standing. It’s unremitting in how it shows Rachel’s almost painful need for acceptance within her children’s parental social circle, as a way of eliminating any possibility they would be perceived as different from their friends. Yet is it her own insecurities that are driving this insatiable hunger for acceptance, at the price of her own well being? Is she the bitch Toby paints her as, or a women forced to fracture her own life, to be acceptable in the ‘male’ world she wants to be a part of and treated as an equal within. The way this leaves her unmoored from the role of mother and wife is painful to read, because Fleishman Is In Trouble asks, why can’t she be both? In 2020 why are women still required to be superwomen, to have both career, social life and family?
Fleishman Is In Trouble is clever simply because it works on so many levels, it seems on the surface to be all about Toby’s midlife crisis, his angst at his own lack of career progression! Following his marriages decent into a series of shambolic missteps, he embarks on a miniature and very Toby centric sexual revolution, but this is where the writer plays her trump card and flipped all my perceptions on their head. As it is a perceptive look at the initiation of marriage and the subversive role many women are still judged by, even by those of their own gender. It asks who actually caused the breakdown of the marriage, Rachel or Toby? Is he as perceptive and supportive as he sees himself, is she the angry demanding shrew he paints her as. Or is Toby too wrapped up in his own personal crisis to be able to see his own role in the trouble they find their marriage in. Is either view to simplistic to explain how they now see each other?
My feelings about both, their friends and endless sense of crisis changed from page to page, because the writers sassy take on a modern marriage needed me to be willingly to adjust my mindset throughout. I had to reach below the surface and find the pain, the humour and the fragility that was an integral part of who they were and their lives.
Fleishman is In Trouble for me surely has to be one the books of the year! For me it was intoxicating and challenging depiction of modern lives, women and marriage. Best of all it is reads like an emotional rollercoaster and that has to be good in my mind.
But why not give you local indie a ring and order it from them. They need us to support them more than ever currently.
About the author
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. She has also written for GQ, ESPN the Magazine, and many other publications. Fleishman Is in Trouble is her first novel.
You can follow the author on Twitter @taffyakner