Back 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.
More from NetGalley:
A finely observed, timely exploration of marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition from one of the most exciting writers working today—for readers of Jonathan Franzen, Lauren Groff, and Tom Perrotta
“Just the sort of thing that Philip Roth or John Updike might have produced in their prime (except, of course, that the author understands women).”—Elizabeth Gilbert
Toby Fleishman thought he knew what to expect when he and his wife of almost fifteen years separated: weekends and every other holiday with the kids, some residual bitterness, the occasional moment of tension in their co-parenting negotiations. He could not have predicted that one day, in the middle of his summer of sexual emancipation, Rachel would just drop their two children off at his place and simply not return. He had been working so hard to find equilibrium in his single life. The winds of his optimism, long dormant, had finally begun to pick up. Now this.
As Toby tries to figure out where Rachel went, all while juggling his patients at the hospital, his never-ending parental duties, and his new app-assisted sexual popularity, his tidy narrative of the spurned husband with the too-ambitious wife is his sole consolation. But if Toby ever wants to truly understand what happened to Rachel and what happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen things all that clearly in the first place.
A searing, utterly unvarnished debut, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an insightful, unsettling, often hilarious exploration of a culture trying to navigate the fault lines of an institution that has proven to be worthy of our great wariness and our great hope.
Advance praise for Fleishman Is in Trouble
“Blisteringly funny, feverishly smart, heartbreaking, and true, Fleishman Is in Trouble is an essential read for anyone who’s wondered how to navigate loving (and hating) the people we choose.”—Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest
“From its opening pages, Fleishman Is in Trouble is shrewdly observed, brimming with wisdom, and utterly of this moment. Not until its explosive final pages are you fully aware of its cunning ferocity. Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut is that rare and delicious treat: a page-turner with heft.”—Maria Semple
“This is a remarkable debut from one of the most distinctive writers around.”—Tom Perrotta
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