Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Review: Fleishman is in Trouble

Fleishman is in Trouble
From Fleishman is in Trouble, by Taffy Brodesser-Akner:

Open quote 
Rachel was gone now, and her goneness was so incongruous to what had been his plan. It wasn’t that he still wanted her—he absolutely did not want her. He absolutely did not wish she were still with him. It was that he had spent so long waiting out the fumes of the marriage and busying himself with the paperwork necessary to extricate himself from it—telling the kids, moving out, telling his colleagues—that he had not considered what life might be like on the other side of it."

A novel that captures the unhappy state of a marriage as believably as the most talented writer can. Not bad for a debut novel.

Grade: B+

Toby and Rachel married young. Their marriage was filled with love. A decade later, they found themselves in different worlds. He was a talented doctor who preferred working with patients to climbing the hospital's management ladder, despite this meaning he had to leave increases in salary on the table. She was an ambitious talent agent who was not just good at her job, but also enjoyed the money that came with each new client. Toby resented the hours away from home that Rachel's job demanded. Rachel resented Toby depending on her to bring in the money the family needed for increasingly lavish apartments in New York City and a vacation home in the Hamptons. The resentments grew to the point that they chose to divorce. Then, one weekend when Toby has the kids, Rachel disappears without a word. Toby's bitterness only grows.

Much of this story is told by a narrator, Libby, who knows Toby from college days. At first, she inserts herself into the story only occasionally in ways that illuminate Toby and Rachel's early relationship. But in the second half of the novel, something begins to change. Libby tells us more and more about what she knows about Toby and Rachel...and about herself. The new perspective on Rachel's role in this marriage offered by Libby provides the complexity and subtlety that turns a straightforward character study of Toby into a complex study of marriage itself, not just Toby and Rachel's marriage, but all marriages. Libby's musings about marriage provide a philosophical angle to a fictional narrative.

The ending, not necessarily either happy nor tragic, is entirely satisfactory, which is the best a reader could hope for in a novel in which one of the two main characters just ups and disappears before the reader even cracks the book open.

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