I started reading Fleishman Is In Trouble right before my dog died. She was an elderly Boston terrier, and we knew the end was near. I spent most of the weekend with her. She was curled up on the bed, sleeping, and I made it through the first half of the book. Then Monday morning rolled around and we had to bring her to the vet to be euthanized. I couldn’t bring myself to pick up the novel again, until a week or so ago. When I did, I was rather surprised to discover that the book is about a man named Toby, which happens to be the name of the dog my husband and I adopted earlier this year.
The only thing I remembered about the novel was a dinner-party scene, which, as I reached the halfway point, I discovered did not actually appear in this book at all. I seem to read a fair amount of novels about rich New Yorkers and their rich-people problems, and after a while, I guess they kind of all blend together.
Fleishman Is In Trouble received tons of acclaim when it was published last year, and it is a really masterfully-written book. Toby Fleishman is a Manhattan doctor who has just separated from his wife, Rachel. He quickly discovers that even a short, 40-year-old man is a hot commodity in the new world of dating and hook-up apps, and he starts taking full advantage. Then one day, Rachel simply disappears, leaving Toby saddled with their two kids, whom Rachel was supposed to be taking to the Hamptons.
The twist here is that Rachel, a successful agent, outearns her husband by a significant degree. She wants to play among New York’s wealthy elite, and it is a source of constant outrage to her that Toby insists on working a relatively unglamorous job as a liver specialist. (He turns down a much more lucrative offer from a family friend, who seems to be based on the Sacklers of Purdue Pharma fame, to Rachel’s disgust.) Toby has always been more of the hands-on parent, the one who is home to meet them after school.
The book continues in this vein for about 300 pages—Toby desperately trying to juggle his job, his kids, and searching for his wife—when it suddenly takes an abrupt turn. No spoilers here, but it casts everything we’ve read so far in a wildly different light.
I admire Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s skill, but this is kind of a brittle, angry (justifiably so—very justifiably) book, and I guess it’s not really what I needed right now; I want literary comfort food, which explains why so many of the novels I’ve reviewed this summer have had cute illustrated covers and happily-ever-afters. Serious fiction, I’ll get back to you when things don’t seem quite as bleak as they do now.
For those who have already read Fleishman, Brodesser-Akner recently published a short story called “Fleishman Is In Lockdown,” which you can read on New York magazine’s website The Cut.