Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

July 2020

I love Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s articles for the New York Times and other outlets, so I was very excited when this book came out and received such great reviews. And when I finally started reading it…I did not like it. More specifically, I didn’t like the (ostensibly) main character (Toby Fleishman) and I didn’t particularly like the “vibe” of the whole thing. It reminded me of Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, which I really didn’t like; creepy, over-sexed, patronizing and paternalistic male protagonists just don’t float my boat. BUT. I kept reading, and as I read, the actual story emerged from the noise of Toby Fleishman’s self-pitying ruminations on his failed marriage. And as it emerged, I felt myself getting increasingly drawn in, increasingly worried for all of the characters (as unlikeable as they may have been), and increasingly curious as to where it was all going. And last night I stayed up until 2:30 in the morning, with 1% battery left on my e-reader, to find out exactly where it was all going. And where it went was a fairly devastating—and yet somehow also optimistic?—appraisal of modern womanhood and motherhood and marriage and aging and life. All of this is hinted at throughout the narrative, but it positively explodes onto the page in the book’s last section, which kind of turns everything that has come before on its head and is like a compressed and upsettingly manic version of the full story (the story of the book, and the story of a woman’s life) told over the course of just a few pages. This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Frankly, I’m not sure how much it’s my cup of tea, and maybe I don’t like the book as much as I admire what it does and how it does it. But it’s been a loooong time since I raced breathlessly to finish a novel in the wee hours of the morning, so that’s something.

Further reading…