This novel is almost like a snapshot, a section cut out of the pie graph of life. It covers the life of, predominantly Toby Fleishman and his wife Rachel and how both of their lives change after they marry and then how their lives change again after they separate.
At the beginning of the novel, they are estranged and heading towards divorce. They have joint custody of the two children. Rachel drops the children off with Toby and then effectively drops off the grid. Toby, certainly not from lack of trying, cannot find her, her secretary just gives him the run around.
As I said before this novel is like a section of Toby’s life. There is so much covered here. His obsession with sex and how easy it is in this modern world to just pick up your phone and swipe away. The problems he has looking after the kids, when he never expected to have them full time. He fields problems such as his young son watching porn on the internet, his daughter hating him for not buying her a phone. Brodesser-Akner shows she has her finger on the pulse and in touch with the zeitgeist of the times in relation to the dangers of social media. When Toby finally gives in and buys his daughter a phone before her twelfth birthday, more problems emerge when he finds out that his daughter has been coerced into sending a risqué picture of herself to a boy while she is at camp. A picture that then goes viral. All of this while performing his demanding job of a hepatologist in which lives are at stake.
It is a strange narrative style told in the third person by one of Toby’s best friends Libby. At first, I thought it may have been better narrated by Toby himself, but about three quarters of the way through the book I think that Libby narrating the story works beautifully. The last section of the book is mostly told from Rachel’s perspective, again with Libby narrating, and the shift is effortless.
This brings me back to, unless we have walked in that person’s shoes, we never really know what is going through their mind, what they are thinking, why they do what they do. And this is what made the book so special for me. How both the husband and wife assume how the other is thinking or what is driving them, when in reality, they don’t know the other as well as they think they do.
Libby, the narrator also plays an integral role. Libby is a writer who has always felt left in the shadows of the male writers she worked with at a men’s magazine. Brodesser-Akner uses Libby to broach the topic of feminism and how in most industries. it is still a man’s world, and women not treated equally. In fact, Brodesser-Akner has maybe blindsided us all with the title of this book as upon completion you may find yourself thinking more about Libby and Rachel and their perspective, their role in the novel, rather than Toby’s. A brilliant debut. 4.5 Stars.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine. Prior to that, her work appeared in GQ, ESPN the Magazine, Matter, Details, Texas Monthly, Outside, Self, Cosmopolitan and many other publications. Fleishman Is In Trouble is her first novel.
Wonderful video here of Brodesser-Akner reading and answering questions - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4W0qCocWl0