Recently separated Toby Fleishman is suddenly, somehow–and at age forty-one, short as ever–surrounded by women who want him: women who are self-actualized, women who are smart and interesting, women who don’t mind his height, women who are eager to take him for a test drive with just the swipe of an app. Toby doesn’t mind being used in this way; it’s a welcome change from the thirteen years he spent as a married man, the thirteen years of emotional neglect and contempt he’s just endured. Anthropologically speaking, it’s like nothing he ever experienced before, particularly back in the 1990s, when he first began dating and became used to swimming in the murky waters of rejection.
But Toby’s new life–liver specialist by day, kids every other weekend, rabid somewhat anonymous sex at night–is interrupted when his ex-wife suddenly disappears. Either on a vision quest or a nervous breakdown, Toby doesn’t know–she won’t answer his texts or calls.
Is Toby’s ex just angry, like always? Is she punishing him, yet again, for not being the bread winner she was? As he desperately searches for her while juggling his job and parenting their two unraveling children, Toby is forced to reckon with the real reasons his marriage fell apart, and to ask if the story he has been telling himself all this time is true.
What I Thought:
Why oh why is it so easy to dash out a few lines of a review for a book that you thought was ok, but so difficult to put across your feelings for a book you love? This is the dilemma I find myself in with Fleishman is in Trouble, a book that I was so glad I was reading on Kindle as there was so much to highlight and come back to.
It’s an unusual book in that, by the end, no-one really comes out of it well – put-upon Toby with the high-flying wife and distinct lack of ambition, Rachel, who works all the hours but fails to have a conversation with her husband, Libby the some-time narrator whose high hopes for herself have morphed into suburbia and Seth who has never done what everyone expects, but suddenly does a 180. All of these people are beautifully written to be the flawed people that we really all are on the inside.
A good two thirds of the book are from Toby’s perspective as he tries to navigate the dating scene – or the dating app scene – as a newly-divorced man, but really inhabiting the primary caregiver role that is normally taken by women. This is so clever, as we read about Toby’s adventures in parenting, and all the support he gets because he’s ‘playing daddy’ while knowing all the while that if a woman was going through the same thing it would be taken for granted and she would just be expected to get on with it.
Then, suddenly, we start hearing from Rachel and realise that many of the things that Toby has told himself, his family and friends, and colleagues about Rachel and their marriage is not really what was going on at all. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it is all his fault; it is more a reminder that we don’t talk to each other as often as we should.
My favourite character was Libby – magazine journo turned suburban mom who is just realising that women over forty are invisible. Not to get all gloomy or anything, but that is something I’ve very much begun to realise recently as I’ve moved into that age bracket. Libby’s worked, she’s had her kids and, aside from trying to guide them into being reasonably rounded human beings, just what is she good for now?
Most of my highlights in the book were on this topic, funnily enough!
They say that books find you at the right time and in this case it’s definitely true, and reassuring to know that my own muddled feelings on slipping into an invisible middle age are not unique to me. Many of this book’s reviews written by female readers touch upon this, so I’m working through them with interest. With that in mind, this would be a fantastic book club pick.
Having said the above though, I don’t want to present this book as only having value to women. The themes in it are universal and there are things that can be interpreted in so many different ways, so I would recommend it to all – although people of a certain age may find a few things ring very much more true for them!
Fleishman is in Trouble is published by Wildfire.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner has also written a short sequel to Fleishman is in Trouble, which is a day in Toby’s life during COVID, Fleishman is in Lockdown, and it’s published on The Cut website.
This post is part of a blog tour to celebrate the paperback release of Fleishman is in Trouble. Check out the blogs below for more reviews and exclusive content.
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book for review via Netgalley. All opinions are, as ever, my own.