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Fleishman Is in Trouble (2019)

by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,3017514,876 (3.52)60
Fiction. Literature. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER â?˘ NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST â?˘ â??A masterpieceâ?ť (NPR) about marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition
Now an FX limited series on Hulu, starring Claire Danes, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Brody

ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEARâ??Entertainment Weekly, The New York Public Library
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEARâ??The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Washington Post, USA Today Vanity Fair, Vogue, NPR, Chicago Tribune, GQ, Vox, Refinery29, Elle, The Guardian, Real Simple, Financial Times, Parade, Good Housekeeping, New Statesman, Marie Claire, Town & Country, Evening Standard, Thrillist, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, BookRiot, Shelf Awareness

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.

Almaâ??s Best Jewish Novel of the Year â?˘ Finalist for the National Book Critics Circleâ??s John Leonard Pri
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» See also 60 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
The first thing you'll notice is that Fleishman does not exactly appear to be in trouble as the book opens. Toby Fleishman, successful New York City doctor, early forties, is recently separated, and enjoying the myriad sexual opportunities offered to him through online dating apps. Granted, he has some of the typical difficulties with his kids, portrayed particularly amusingly through his tween daughter Hannah:

"Hannah snarled at him that he'd chosen the wrong outfit, that the leggings were for tomorrow, and so he held up her tiny red shorts and she swiped them out of his hands with the disgust of a person who was not committed to any consideration of scale when it came to emotional display."

The reader learns about Toby's marriage to Rachel, and the disappointments he had with their relationship that led to the marriage breaking up. Rachel is a talent agent who owns her own agency, working long hours and, he feels, neglecting Toby and the kids, as the book carefully notes that Rachel earns about 15 times the salary of Toby, who is on a mere $250,000 a year. Toby's resentment comes through strongly:

"Rachel knew how to work. She liked working. It made sense to her. It bent to her will and her sense of logic. Motherhood was too hard. The kids were not deferential to her like her employees. They didn't brook her temper with the desperation and co-dependence that, say, Simone, her assistant, did. That was the big difference between them, Rachel. He didn't see their children as a burden, Rachel. He didn't see them as endless pits of need, Rachel. He liked them, Rachel."

Later in the novel however, you come across a shift taking place. The novel is being told from the perspective of a college friend of Toby's, Elizabeth. She is a writer who used to work at a men's magazine. She tells us:

"That was what I knew for sure, that this was the only way to get someone to listen to a woman - to tell her story through a man; Trojan horse yourself into a man, and people would give a shit about you. So I wrote heartfelt stories about their lives, extrapolating from what they gave me and running with what I already knew from being human. They sent me texts and flowers that told me I really understood them in a way that no one had before, and I realized that all humans are essentially the same, but only some of us, the men, were truly allowed to be that without apology. The men's humanity was sexy and complicated; ours (mine) was to be kept in the dark at the bottom of the story and was only interesting in the service of the man's humanity."

And the reader realizes that Brodesser-Akner is telling us the complicated story of Rachel's humanity through Toby's story. The Fleishman in trouble is not really Toby; it is Rachel. What about Rachel. Do you want to know about her and her story?

Fleishman Is in Trouble is a smart novel that gives the reader a lot to think about by the end, but it is also a challenging read. It skewers its characters and their wealthy social set, making it more difficult to identify with any of them, be it Toby or Rachel, but it also critiques the social conditions that have led these characters there. Anger is a common theme, both of the characters, and by the end, clearly of the author herself. She is angry that women are told they are the equal of men, yet that is evidently never true, not really, and women will be punished for their choices whatever those choices are. Given the attention this novel has attracted, she has indeed hit a collective nerve. ( )
  lelandleslie | Feb 24, 2024 |
It's hard to believe that Taffy Brodesser-Akner's FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE is her first novel, because it's just so damn GOOD! I mean, from page one it so totally sucked me in, which is probably a good description, because her style is very (Philip)Roth-ian, or Roth-esque, or whatever. Meaning there's lots of sex, of all kinds. Like she spent her younger years peering over Roth's shoulder as he wrote some of his juiciest old-white-guy material. Because she certainly knows Roth, who even gets a token mention, as one of the authors (along with Bellow) that her protagonist, Dr Toby Fleishman, imagined his ideal woman might be reading when he would first meet her. Which didn't happen, of course. Instead he met Rachel, fell in love and married her. And now, fifteen years and two kids later, their marriage is almost over. They are separated. She got everything. He gets the kids every other weekend. The Fleishmans are in trouble. Yes, both of them. Because this is a book about the dissolution of a marriage, about how hard it is to stay in love, about differing goals and dreams and ambitions, about parenting by the seat of your pants, social climbing, and about starting over, at forty-one, in the age of smart phones and dating apps - and pornographic pics sent from interested women. Toby is wallowing in all of this fresh fleish, er, flesh, and still trying to be a responsible father to his eleven year-old daughter, Hannah, who is already feeling prepubescent pangs of puppy love, and sensitive nine year-old Solly.

So yeah, initially you think this story is all about Toby, with an omniscient narrator. Then suddenly this narrator becomes Libby, Toby's longtime friend from college, who might have been his girlfriend, except for the fact that Toby is only five foot four, a disadvantage he is all too aware of. Toby and Libby and Seth, still a libertine bachelor, were a tight threesome in college, and have stayed in touch intermittently. Libby, we learn, married with children, has given up her job as a writer for a men's magazine to be a stay-at-home mom. Discontented, she wants to be a writer, but, after some false starts, she discovers -

"My voice only came alive when I was talking about someone else; my ability to see the truth and to extrapolate human emotion based on what I saw and was told didn't extend to myself.

Hence, voila! She becomes the voice of Toby's story and Rachel's, and Seth's. And her story is dropped in there too, eventually. It's complicated. And much of Libby's discontent comes from her realization that -

"There were so many ways of being a woman in the world, but all of them still rendered her just a woman, which is to say: a target."

Toby's story - and Rachel's too - as Libby presents them, are sad and painful, and hard to look away from. And the effects on the children are equally tragic. Because all the Fleishmans are in trouble. Marriage is hard, but separation and divorce are even harder.

I've read a lot of Philip Roth over the years, and so, apparently, has Brodesser-Akner. One of my favorite Roth novels is his first, the often overlooked coming-of-age LETTING GO. It is very similar to this book in that it alternates between an omniscient narrator and a first-person in the voice of protagonist Gabe Wallach. And a major female character in LETTING GO, is named Libby, a married woman Gabe is more than a little in love with. So yeah, I suspect Taffy Brodesser-Akner is very much a student of Philip Roth's work, and, as a result, she has crafted a multi-faceted masterpiece on the pleasures and perils of men and women falling in love and out of love, marriage and divorce, lust and longing and so many other things. I loved this book. My very highest recommendation.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Feb 17, 2024 |
I don’t know how I should rate this.

I suppose at times it’s amusing but mostly it’s bleak and depressing and kind of disgusting. It’s uncomfortable living through other people’s mid-life crisis!

At first I thought we were supposed to be rooting for Toby but by the end I certainly wasn’t and our mysterious narrator was a real downer too. Who knew Rachel would be the most sympathetic one of all?

Glad I don’t hate my life as much as these characters hate theirs.
( )
  hmonkeyreads | Jan 25, 2024 |
Messy and smart. ( )
  rockvillemama | Jan 24, 2024 |
Author Taffy (did her parents really name her Taffy?) Brodesser-Akner has a very salty tongue, which probably suggests to me that if we became friends, the friendship wouldn’t last very long.

But her humorous novel, “Fleishman is in Trouble” I must admit made me laugh out loud. There are just too many things in the marriage of Toby and Rachel that I can relate to.

What really touched me — and I hope I’m not spoiling this — are the very real differences in how the partners see each other, how they interpret their marriage, and what they hope for themselves.

Although there are many allusions to #MeToo I don’t consider this a MeToo book but a philosophical meditation on the means of society to shape our expectations of life.I tend to view such stories as a chapter in the war between complexity (life giving) and entropy (life destroying), what older writers might have seen as the struggle between good and evil, but which I don’t believe in anymore.

Rachel is a busy bee trying very hard not to let the forces of entropy swallow her whole, as in her upbringing by a grandmother who showed her no affection. She envied the family Toby grew up in which, while smothering, at least gave focus to one’s affections.

Fleishman may be in trouble, but its Rachel’s suffering that gives shape to this story.

And Brodesser-Acker’s skillful shifting of the narration makes the story consuming. ( )
  MylesKesten | Jan 23, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 75 (next | show all)
Many of its 373-pages seemed like padding, much of which consists of… sex.
Or sexting.
Or thinking about sex.
Or thinking about sexting.
added by MarthaJeanne | editBBC, Will Gompertz (Jul 27, 2019)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Brodesser-Akner, Taffyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ryan, AllysonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Summon your witnesses.
—Aeschylus
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For Claude
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Toby Fleishman awoke one morning inside the city he'd lived in all his adult life and which was suddenly somehow now crawling with women who wanted him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Fiction. Literature. HTML:NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER â?˘ NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST â?˘ â??A masterpieceâ?ť (NPR) about marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition
Now an FX limited series on Hulu, starring Claire Danes, Jesse Eisenberg, Lizzy Caplan, and Adam Brody

ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEARâ??Entertainment Weekly, The New York Public Library
ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEARâ??The New York Times Book Review, Time, The Washington Post, USA Today Vanity Fair, Vogue, NPR, Chicago Tribune, GQ, Vox, Refinery29, Elle, The Guardian, Real Simple, Financial Times, Parade, Good Housekeeping, New Statesman, Marie Claire, Town & Country, Evening Standard, Thrillist, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, BookPage, BookRiot, Shelf Awareness

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.

Almaâ??s Best Jewish Novel of the Year â?˘ Finalist for the National Book Critics Circleâ??s John Leonard Pri

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