{Review} Fleishman Is In Trouble

fleishman is in troubleBack in the fall, I hopped on a train to San Francisco, leaving the kids behind with dad and indulged in my favorite pastime– wandering around a city alone, like I was in college again.

When I was a student at NYU, I lived downtown in various dorms, all below 14th Street. Most days, I went to class. But I developed a habit of taking mental health days. I would wander the village, both east and west, aimlessly, taking myself shopping, browsing in bookstores,  and treating myself to lunch at Fanelli’s  Sometimes, I would take myself to the movies at the Angelika on Houston or Cinema Village on 12th Street. Even then, still young, uncoupled, and childless, I sought independence and a break from the routine of school and work and LIFE.

Fleishman Is In Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner,  is the existential crisis that every married person who was once young and free is in danger of suffering. The book opens with our male protagonist, Toby Fleishman, the description of whom immediately brings to mind a nebbishy Jew, and of course, he is. An LA native, raised in a Jewish household, now a doctor and living in New York, Toby paints a picture of himself as a loving, devoted father  and amiable husband who was emotionally abandoned by his wife, a striver who has risen to great heights in her career, far surpassing Toby’s earning power. Toby asked for the divorce, we learn and we think we understand why. Rachel has put her work before her family, her career before her children, chasing after status and acceptance at the expense of everything else.

I found myself wary. I did not want to be on Toby’s side, and tried to remember that there are two sides to every story. Why should I trust Toby, after all? But then, it becomes clear that the narrator is a woman, an old college friend of Toby’s and that makes Toby more credible, because our narrator, Libby, doesn’t like Rachel either.

If I were reading this book with my book club, we’d have so many angles to dissect that we’d probably finish at least two bottles of wine and all the cheese and crackers, and maybe the brownies too.

What starts out as a book about a poor shlub who can’t keep up with his rising star of a wife, becomes a story about what women give up when they choose between career and family. It’s a story in which women can either be a winner in their own eyes or someone else’s eyes but never both at the same time.

Fleishman Is In Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is forthcoming from Random House, June 2019.

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