When a friend offered to loan me her copy of Fleishman is in Trouble, I couldn't wait to start. For months, the cover had been dominating my Instagram and Goodreads feeds and I was curious what all the hype was about.
The book is written by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine. This is her first novel and interestingly, she wrote the story with a male protagonist.
Fleishman is in Trouble centers around Toby Fleishman, a man in the process of separating from his wife, Rachel. At the beginning of the story, we meet Toby as he's navigating the world of dating apps for the first time. I found these date scenes were written in a way that was extremely vulgar. Though they may be true to the experience of many people, I felt myself cringing at the explicit descriptions.
In addition to meeting new women almost every night, Toby is also the primary caregiver for his two children, Hannah and Solly. Hannah has entered the nasty pre-teen stage and Solly is clingier than he should be for his age.
We don't hear much about Toby's wife, Rachel, until the second half of the book. In a flashback, Toby shares how Rachel started her own company and began to prefer working over parenting, "Super Duper Creative was now full service. She grew and grew and there seemed to be no limit to her expansion. It was the opposite of parenthood, and, secretly, a necessary correction for it. It was accomplishment in a way that parenthood absolutely couldn't be. Hannah and Solly grew and she fretted over questions of whether they were too programmed or not programmed enough. Whether they should also be taking German like the Leffers. At night, she would fall asleep and in the wild hallucinogenic minefield of her pre-REM sleep her dead mother came to her and said, 'Why can't Solly code yet?' This question rang in her ears for days. An actor's deal got done in a week or two and that was that. She wouldn't know if this whole Hannah and Solly thing worked out until she died and nothing bad had happened yet."
Eventually we learn that Rachel has been having an affair with a dad from the kids' school. Toby is furious at first, but the more he ruminates on why they drifted apart, the more sense it begins to make to him. On page 198, "Sam Rothberg was everything Rachel wished Toby were: ambitious, successful, tall, at home among the wealthy. But he was also vain, vapid, superficial, ostentatious, and idiot bro who played in fantasy leagues. Sam Rothberg was who he pictured when Solly said he wanted to go to golf camp and Toby's blood ran cold from the implications of this place where he lived inside but felt he existed outside - this place he was in but not of. His children were of it, though. He realized that now. They never stood a chance. What had he been thinking?"
This book is 373 pages of disdain. Toby hating Rachel. Rachel hating Toby. Toby hating Sam. Rachel eventually hating Sam. Hannah hating both her parents.
When I discussed the book with a friend, she commented, "I think the problem is that no one in the book is likable." When I finished reading it, I knew I didn't enjoy it and I couldn't quite put my finger on why. That is it! Every single character is irritating.
There was a ton of praise for the book when it was released; famous authors calling it "searingly accurate" and "shrewdly observed" and "feverishly smart, heartbreaking and true." I wanted to like it, but I just never got there.
Tell me, did you read the book? What did you think?
*Image courtesy of TIME.