Finally free from his nightmare of a marriage, Toby Fleishman is ready for a life of online dating and weekend-only parental duties. But as he optimistically looks to a future that is wildly different from the one he imagined, his life turns upside-down as his ex-wife, Rachel, suddenly disappears.
While Toby tries to find out what happened – juggling work, kids and his new, app-assisted sexual popularity – his tidy narrative of a spurned husband is his sole consolation. But if he ever wants to really understand where Rachel went and what really happened to his marriage, he is going to have to consider that he might not have seen it all that clearly in the first place.
You literally have to have been living underneath a stone if you haven’t heard the buzz surrounding Fleishman is in Trouble from debut author,Taffy Brodesser-Akner – I mean honestly, this book has been shortlisted for nearly every book award you can imagine. That’s why I was so delighted to be invited onto the blogtour to see if this word-of-mouth sensation was every bit as captivating as the online chat suggested. As you will discover, I was definitely not disappointed and It certainly have me a lot to think about during my lockdown afternoon walks as I thought over some of the situations we are presented with in the novel – it was almost as if these were real people whose lives I’d got caught up in and they have certainly lived on with me after I finished the book …
The Fleischman in question is Toby Fleishman, who is in his forties, divorced and going through somewhat of a ‘Tinderella’ moment on social media dating apps when we meet him. His new found dating nirvana draws to a shuddering stop when his ex wife drops his children off at his flat and promptly vanishes into thin air with no warning whatsoever – leaving him metaphorically ‘holding the baby’ with his offspring whilst being presented with the reality of his married life, rather than the altered and edited version which he allowed himself to remember.
This novel was quite a different one for me as I am much more used to considering middle age and the breakdown of a marriage in novels from the wife’s perspective, so this was an interesting departure for me and an opportunity to think about gender roles, sexuality and ageing from a wholly different point of view. That’s not to say that I often sympathised much with Toby – but it was a read that really made me think about his voice and that’s one of the things I love about blogging, that you encounter people and situations through your reading that challenge your own world-view and make you think about your stances on matters and come to a clearer understanding of why you think like you do.
I loved the fact that this is Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel and it makes me very excited for what she goes on to write next. It was a brave decision to create a character in Toby Fleischman who is so radically different to this young female writer and I think that this is one of the things which impressed me the most – that she could ‘walk in his shoes’ so successfully. Taffy Brodesser-Akner allows Toby to get past his obsession with his newest online fling and stat to think about what he really had in his marriage to Rachel and where things started to unravel in their fairly unorthodox relationship Toby begins to think about the things that money can’t buy, instead of expensive homes and all the trappings of their successful lifestyle that had really begun to lose all real meaning for him.
Embarking on all of these Tinder experiences is an opportunity to free himself up and just be in a relationship that’s not bogged down with domestic minutiae, responsibilities and feelings of emasculation or warped gender roles. Toby initially seems to feel that in being free to date all of these available girls, he can feel like he’s free to be a man. It’s interesting to see that what he begins to long for however, rater than an endless conveyor belt of unfettered ‘hook-ups’ is actually a relationship that will make him feel valued and ‘seen’ – across the whole novel, my feelings towards Toby ebbed and flowed, from sympathising with some of his feelings and reflections, to finding him entitled and selfish at other times and I think that this is what made the novel very real for me. In real life we meet people who we can be draw towards as well as irritating us at ties and I think this novel managed to render this in a very convincing way.
Elizabeth the narrator, is a friend of Toby’s and provides an interesting counterbalance to his experiences. Elizabeth feels that her life is just as difficult as anything that Toby is having to deal with – if not even more challenging, coping with being a journalist for a men’s magazine and feeling like she had to work twice as hard as any of her male compadres. Her marriage is almost a mirror image of Toby’s, but their common experience is that they feel buried in their marriage and that they have lost aspects of themselves in their relationship. Again, it was interesting to see this situation from both sides of the gender debate and think about the different elements that cause them grief within their very different situations.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an original and thought provoking writer that definitely did not disappoint me and I think that this book really has a lot of insight into present day relationships and the gender debate – as well as giving us much to smile about in its rendering of contemporary parenting and online dating too; it’s far from a po-faced read and will have many readers nodding their heads or grimacing in recognition at both the neck of today’s smart arse teenagers and the dreadful shallowness of the 21st century dating world.
After finishing it, I really appreciated why it has generated so much discussion online and been nominated for so many awards, I definitely think that it will be a fabulous read for my next real life book group meeting as it will definitely divide sympathies and give us so much to talk about in terms of modern life in all its weird and wonderful permutations. I’d like to thank Anne Cater for inviting me onto the tour and urge you to buy a copy for yourself as soon as possible so that you can join in with the debate and see what you think of Toby’s life choices for yourself.
Writer On The Shelf
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine . She has also written for GQ, ESPN the Magazine , and many other publications.
FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE is her first novel.