I first heard an excerpt of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman is in Trouble on my favorite (and now, unfortunately, defunct) podcast, The Cut on Tuesdays. My husband and I were listening to the episode entitled Everyone is Getting Divorced while in the car, and we were so transfixed by Taffy’s characters, we stayed in the car to finish the episode even after we arrived at our destination, which was - full disclosure - a winery. And if a book can keep me from a winery, it's probably a good one.
The story opens on Toby Fleishman, a carb-hating hepatologist in the beginning of a bitter divorce from his wife, the owner of a successful talent agency, Rachel. Toby wakes in his new apartment to discover that Rachel came in the middle of the night to deposit their two children, Hannah and Solly, in their bedrooms, and fled to a yoga retreat, effectively abandoning them. Unable to reach Rachel, Toby must navigate single-parenthood in Manhattan, all the while maneuvering his way through the new world of dating apps. Women throw themselves at Toby, now middle-aged, a little too short, and terribly narcissistic. His phone constantly lights up with lewd photos of women, eager to jump into bed with him.
Narrated by Toby’s friend Libby, Fleishman is in Trouble is a fascinating look at how a man thinks (in my opinion, as a woman). Toby rushes to and fro, from soaring highs to crushing lows. From one dawning realization to the next. I am the greatest. I am the worst. I shouldn’t be doing this. I should have done this long ago. My wife was wonderful. My wife is a monster. He fixates on a younger female resident, convinced he needs her in his life as a stable romantic partner, then switches his attention to a woman on a dating app. Back and forth, back and forth. It’s exhausting, and frankly, gross, to read the thoughts of a man who thinks so highly of himself in so many ways, whose focus shifts from work to sex to his children to sex to his hatred of his ex-wife to sex.
Much of the novel focuses on Toby’s perspective, and suddenly, right when we’ve had enough of him, we’re presented with the other side of the story. Toby presents Rachel as a power-hungry child abandoner, but to say he’s mischaracterized her is an understatement. Brodesser-Akner’s book highlights the wide grey areas of marriage, the two-sidedness of every story, and the grueling swamp of sexism and double standards that women face every day.
I truly enjoyed reading this one, and can say with certainty that I have not read a book quite like it before. Rachel's struggles with "having it all," laid against her husband's expectations of her as a wife, were depressing but certainly hit home as an ambitious gal who is well aware of the double standards placed on women in the workplace. And though the narrator and main character's depictions of their marriages are anything but rosy, I found the book to be a really insightful look into the reality of long-term relationships, many of which end in divorce. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've given Fleishman is in Trouble a read!