Toby Fleishman by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Published by: Headline Books
Literary Fiction, 288p
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.
But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.
Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.
About the author:
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine. Her work has appeared in GQ, ESPN the Magazine, Matter, Details, Texas Monthly, Outside, Self, Cosmopolitan and many other publications. Fleishman Is In Trouble is her first novel and has been Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, 2020.
*Thank you NetGalley and Headline for the e-copy. All opinions are my own.
Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel can come across like an upper scale cushy New York couple facing aggravated marital discord in the midst of a mid life crisis but there’s a great deal more unraveling. Fleishman Is in Trouble is a sharp twist into the facades of social and individual expectations from marriage, divorce, parenting, motherhood and women with careers.
The main story has Toby Fleishman, a 41-year-old hepatologist as the narrator taking readers through how he has come to be estranged from his high income, high social connected wife Rachel. For a majority of the book, the picture we have of the marriage and his relationship with Rachel is how the later is emotionally distant and not invested totally into their marriage. The story plays out from their two kids having been dropped off by Rachel, at the home Toby lives in (but paid for by his wife), with a casual text message that she has gone to an upscale retreat. What unfolds from this point on is a whirl of playing victim; how chasms develop in a marriage that bound by children and what is socially expected from a couple; therapy sessions and career battles.
A minor narrator Libby, makes a quiet entry but the twist she brings into the narrative, not so much as a plot turner but an acrid observation of women as mothers, as career women and wives is what eventually turns the narrative beyond a mere story of an estranged couple into a universal elegy into how fissures fester in a marriage and how one’s career takes a toll on relationships and vice versa. The turn around is a writing trope yes but makes you connect to how men often gaslight women. When Rachel goes into a downward spiral, it is no surprise and the same goes with the revelations of Libby’s life. The ending is as real as how things happen in real life.
The writing is unadulterated in its sharp take on new age relationships, internet sex and dating, parenting and the men women dynamics that exist today. One might feel tempted to say, ‘oh well! This one talks about posh people and their problems’ but believe me, the brutal honesty that the author digs into to bring us the man-woman roles and expectations is something that will stay with you.