My thanks to Anne Cater and the publisher Wildfire for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. The decision to take part was my own, and this review forms my honest opinion.
A blistering satirical novel about marriage, divorce and modern relationships, by one of the most exciting new voices in American Fiction.
Finally free from his nightmare of a marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of Tinder dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future of few responsibilities, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife Rachel suddenly disappears.
While Toby tries to find out what happened – juggling work, kids and his new, app-assisted sexual popularity – his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if he ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place . . .
Wow. There is so much in this book to unpack, it’s one of those times that I really wish I had been reading it with a friend or as part of a book group to really pull on each thread. Sadly, this isn’t the right place (no spoilers!) but I have an itch to discuss! I have made SO MANY notes on this book whilst reading, but I’ll try to rein it in and keep this as succinct as possible…..
Fleishman is in Trouble features a smart exploration of gender roles and expectations within a modern marriage. It’s incredibly unique in the handling of the themes, predominantly explored from a male point of view it completely defied my initial expectations.
It took me a little while to figure out the narrative voice. Told in the third person, but predominantly through Toby Fleishman’s point of view, the narrator turning out to be his friend, Elizabeth – a writer. Toby is a doctor, and his ex-wife Rachel a very successful agent. Recently separated and in the process of getting a divorce, Rachel suddenly disappears, leaving him in charge of their two children, Hannah and Solly.
Reading this as a woman and a mother, I felt little in the way of pity for Toby. Truth be told, he annoyed the heck out of me. I found his attitude towards women to be atrocious, and I read uncomfortably as at each and every turn he seemed willing to pull Rachel down, without showing any concern for her well being or whereabouts. Male pride and inconvenience to his social life fueling his emotions.
There is of course two sides to every story, and Rachel does get her chance. However, tellingly it’s tagged at the back, in the final part, sped through rather quickly like a footnote to her husband’s tale of woe. However, her input changes the novel up a gear and causes an entire reevaluation of everything that has come before.
Classed as satire, this novel explores feminism and the complexities of womanhood. The ways in which we as women are still, in an age where equality apparently exists and we are supposed to be able to have it all, are still expected to fulfill every ‘traditional’ role. It’s very timely too, when the recent pandemic has seen women (in many, not all cases) shoulder the brunt of childcare, despite many working themselves. The imbalance is clearer to me now than at any other time in my life, and this novel shouts loudly in a way I wish I could express.
There were so many times within this novel that I found myself nodding along. It is clear that Toby Fleishman considers himself to be progressive. And yet he doesn’t seem to see that his defining himself as ‘the wife’ in the relationship, but then holding that role in such a derogatory manner, whilst simultaneously wanting someone to fulfill that role for him, is pure hypocrisy. It was so sad to see those accepted, toxic views filter down into the next generation, with a couple of notable incidents where his children were treated very differently on the grounds of their gender.
When Rachel finally appears, it feels like a jigsaw coming together. The first parts of the novel feeling somehow incomplete. She is not perfect, and has her own demons, but my goodness, did I identify with her. The pressure of wanting to fit in, and wanting to belong, and wanting to be appreciated for who you are. I felt a tremendous sense of sadness and it made me really reconsider the sacrifices and the adaptations I’ve made to myself in the last few years, because I know that if my twenty-five year old self met me now, she’d be so disappointed in who I’ve become.
The ending was frustrating, but also fitting. Open, with no answers, the very real themes showcased throughout are our own to resolve. It’s one of those books that as you’re reading, you’re not exactly enjoying it, but yet you’re incredibly drawn to it and you want to know how it ends – and then when it does end everything pieces together so wonderfully and you realise just how flipping good it was and you have to urge to read it all over again with these new and informed eyes.
It’s a thought provoking read. Not a relaxing Sunday morning kind of read, but one which demands attention, thought. It will most definitely linger in my mind for some time to come.
About the Author
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine . She has also written for GQ, ESPN the Magazine , and many other publications. FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE is her first novel.