FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

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From the publisher:

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • NATIONAL BOOK AWARD LONGLIST • “A feminist jeremiad nested inside a brilliant comic novel—a book that makes you laugh so hard you don’t notice till later that your eyebrows have been singed off.”—Ron Charles, The Washington Post

“Funny, dirty, sly, irresistible.”—New York

A finely observed, timely exploration of marriage, divorce, and the bewildering dynamics of ambition from one of the most exciting writers working today

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.


I had heard about this book from the publicist, and later a friend recommended it. Then I think Michelle Goldberg recommended it on her podcast, The Argument? I wouldn’t swear to that, but anyway, I read it. I did not remember that it was a first novel when I read it, and I was very surprised when I realized it after. It is a really interesting story, with complex characters and a lot of emotion, and I loved the writing.

Toby Fleishman is a recently divorced 40-something doctor in Manhattan, AKA catnip to women, and not only in New York. Many years ago my doctor lost his wife. They were young, had a couple of young children. I swear, less than a week later I overheard some women discussing ways to finagle dates with him. I overheard this on the playground at the Jewish Community Center, while they were ignoring their toddlers. So I get it. But things have changed since my kids were in pre-school.

Toby is short. He has a bit of a complex about it, like many men who are vertically challenged. But the doctor thing is now overriding the short thing, and he is shocked to find that women are practically throwing themselves at him. Actually, not practically, they are definitely throwing themselves at him. He is on a dating app where he is barraged with pictures of women. Not their faces so much, but everything he used to have to look for in porn. Now pictures are being delivered to his phone at all hours of the day and night. Along with invitations to meet. Not for dinner necessarily, but for sex. Toby is like a kid in a candy store. This new world order is working for him. Until his ex goes missing, and the party feels like it’s over.

Rachel is aspirational, and super successful. In fact, she thinks Toby the doctor is a loser. Her income and ambitions far eclipse his, which means she pays child support as he is the primary care giver for the kids. It was another interesting aspect of the book, and I really liked how that was explored. A lot of the stuff that happens is laugh out loud funny, and other parts are infuriating and sometimes sad.

This is a book that begs to be discussed. If you are in a book group, put it on your list, you won’t be sorry.

10/19 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Random House (June 18, 2019).  ISBN 978-0525510871. 384p.

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