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Fleishman is in Trouble

by Jasmin Pedretti

‘Fleishman is in Trouble’, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel, has a voice that is pure and tells the story of three complex characters with profundity. 

While Toby Fleishman is undergoing a bitter divorce with wife Rachel, she suddenly disappears, leaving him with their two kids. The novel chronicles the hardship that Toby faces when he must juggle his responsibilities as a father and a hepatologist.

Libby, one of Toby’s old college friends, narrates the novel. The reader sees how the marriage broke down through Toby’s eyes right up until the last quarter, where finally we get to see his wife’s side. 

Toby positions himself as the victim.

For the first three quarters, the narrator asks the reader to sympathize, an (albeit pathetic), man, who was abandoned by his cold, workaholic wife, Rachel. You do not even judge him for his creepy online dating obsession and cringy attraction to a young work colleague. At times you want to punch him in the face because he is so god damn oblivious, but even then, you pity his ignorance. 

Libby only permits flecks of Rachel’s side, making you anticipate the moment where her full story is finally revealed. It is an agitating wait but worth it, in the end, to learn how one-sided stories are a complete warp of the truth. Libby, learnt by writing for a men’s magazine, that the only way someone will listen is if the story is told through a man. 

Gender double standards is a prominent concern throughout the novel. “Whatever kind of woman you are, even when you’re a lot of kinds of women, you’re still always just a woman, which is to say you’re always a little bit less than a man.” 

‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ is a story of shrewd observations.

Everyone has their own version of the truth, even outsiders who cannot possibly know what happened in the private, complicated experience of two people. 

Even when Libby reveals Rachel’s version of what happened, the reader is not asked to side with her but to empathize with both sides and accept that we all have weaknesses. We are all just doing the best we can, and sometimes problems in a marriage just cannot be solved.   

At times Libby’s account is indeed impossible. There are intimate details and conversations that only Toby and Rachel could know. Nevertheless, this only furthers the point that all perspectives are shrewd, and no account is entirely reliable. In this case, Libby is taking artistic license, and the whole novel is her interpretation. An animated, sparkling and agonizing one at that. 

‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ is an outstanding exploration of how our culture attempts to navigate the breakdown of marriage and the experience of others.

Although it can be at times painful to read, it is worth pushing through Toby’s uncomfortable sexual-popularity, to get to the revelations that unfold eventually. After laughing and crying your way through, you will put the book down, satisfied that “Fleishman” is indeed “in trouble”. 

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