REVIEW: Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

In brief: Toby and Rachel have separated, and Toby is finally free. Until Rachel disappears and suddenly all the responsibilities are on his shoulders. But is Toby really the unlucky one?

The good: I love the feeling of being sucked into a book’s world, and Fleishman is in Trouble does this brilliantly.

The not-so-good: I want to know more about Rachel.

Why I chose it: A lot of people whose book opinions I respect enjoyed it.

Year: 2019

Pages: 4379

Publisher: Wildfire (Hachette)

Setting: Mainly New York City

Rating: 10 out of 10

If there is a book that should be winning all the awards in 2019, it is Fleishman is in Trouble. This debut novel seems pretty simple on description – the breakdown of a marriage and the aftermath – but it has a colossal impact. Feelings of every type abound, combined with awkwardness, loss for youth and just…everything. It’s life on paper.

Toby Fleishman is a hepatologist. He’s also newly single after the end of his marriage to Rachel, who is incredibly ambitious and thinks he should be too. Rachel is a monster, Toby thinks, and he is well rid of her. He’s now on every dating app possible and enjoying the free sex and desirability that wasn’t a feature of his youth. Sex is his first priority, followed by work and/or his kids. Then Rachel dumps his children on him to go away for the weekend, and doesn’t come back. Despite Toby’s recollections of being the main parent to his children during his marriage, he’s in a flap. How can he organise his children in the summer while enjoying his newfound sexual freedom? It’s difficult and made all the more complicated by a patient requiring a liver transplant, the kids getting in trouble and his rash sacking of their long-term nanny. But what about Rachel, who has disappeared? She’s not taking calls and she hasn’t been home. Toby is furious, but does he care enough to search for her?

Rachel’s side of the story does appear later through the narrator of the book, Toby’s college friend Libby. They haven’t spoken for years, but start to meet up again after his separation. Libby was once a fearless reporter on a men’s magazine. Now she’s a mother in the suburbs who is trying and failing to write a novel. She is everything Rachel is not – a devoted, stay at home mum and someone that gave up her career (reluctantly, but only she knows that) for family. There is nothing sexual in their relationship but to Toby she is kind of a pillar of how a wife should be. (Of course, Rachel is everything a wife shouldn’t be – driven, busy, successful…)

I love the perspectives offered in Fleishman is in Trouble and how my opinions of the characters shifted as more is revealed of their pasts. Toby is set up to be a Good Guy – he’s a doctor, good Jewish boy, done everything right…so he’s entitled to have some fun off the leash of his disastrous marriage, right? Rachel is driven by social climbing, money, social standing…everything that can be valued in the eyes of others in terms of dollars. But are first assumptions correct? I loved how things changed piece by piece and with small details added. Rachel is a jerk. No, Toby is. Rachel is correct. No, Toby is. Fleishman is in Trouble is an unguarded view of perception, selfishness, love, hate and everything in between. Simply put, it must be read and enjoyed by all.

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