Toby Fleishman is divorcing. He’s had enough of his absent, high-flying talent agent wife, Rachel, who never seems to be satisfied with his job as a doctor, their flat in Manhattan or indeed have time for their two kids. He’s fed up. In his new-found freedom he’s going through a sort of sexual renaissance. New York, it appears, is full of middle-aged horny women who will do anything to get laid by someone like Toby, or, actually, just anyone. Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner has descriptions of the befuddling world of online dating that had me, literally, screaming with laughter. But there’s more to this book than clever comedy and the turn to a more serious tone is both its strength and weakness.
Yes, who could have predicted that Toby Fleishman, at the age of forty-one, would find that his phone was aglow from sunup to sundown (in the night the flow was extra bright) with texts that contained G-strings and ass cleavage and underboob and sideboobs and just straight-up boob […]
Brodesser-Akner nails more than online dating. Neurotic 21st century parenting, teenage obnoxiousness, Manhattan competitiveness and, most of all, marriage, also get a beating. If you’re married, you will recognise yourself in this book, regardless of which side of the work/stay-at-home divide you are on. In Fleishman is in Trouble it’s Toby who has sacrificed his career, who leaves work early to take the children to their dentist appointments, who rushes off when they are sick. Would we feel differently if Toby had been a woman?
And who is telling the story? At first glance it seems like an omniscient third person but after a while an ‘I’ appears. The ‘I’ turns out to be Libby, Toby’s close friend from college. Libby used to work for a men’s magazine writing profiles of famous people (just like the author herself). Now she’s a stay-at-home mum in New Jersey. Through Libby we get both Toby’s and, later, Rachel’s side of the story. How different a marriage can be perceived by the two parties involved. As you’ve probably figured, gender politics is at the core of Fleishman is in Trouble.
It’s a strange animal this book. Starting out, it seems like a modern Woody Allenesque story about a neurotic New Yorker on the dating scene struggling with the ghost of a previous relationship. Two-thirds in it changes tack, turns serious and becomes more of an evaluation of marriage. Brodesser-Akner’s own voice feels very much present which makes it real and also, at times, quite angry.
There’s plenty of food for thought here but I’m still debating with myself whether or not the two parts work together as a whole. It gives the book depth but also makes it disconnected somehow. One thing I know, though: Fleishman is in Trouble is the funniest book I’ve read in a long, long while and for that alone, is worth your time.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner is published by Wildfire, 384 pages.