Fleish­man is in Trou­ble is a nov­el about women, told through the lens of a man

Review: Taffy Brodesser-Akner has enough empathy for everyone – whether they’re navigating marriage, identity, capitalism, gender norms, and the 21st Century measures of success we’re all taught to aspire to.

Rat­ing: 5/5

It takes about a few dozen pages to realise what a clever trick Taffy Brodess­er-Akn­er has played on her read­ers.

As Fleish­man is in Trou­ble starts to blos­som, we are treat­ed to every angry, lude and ten­der thought run­ning through the aggriev­ed mind of new­ly divorced father Toby Fleish­man. We fol­low him as he shut­tles his two kids around (tend­ing to their emo­tion­al needs) sexts women on his very active dat­ing app (tend­ing to his phys­i­cal needs) nav­i­gates dra­ma at the hos­pi­tal where he works as a hepa­tol­o­gist, and re-plays over and over every moment, past and present, in which his ex-wife has wronged him.

He is a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al per­son, liv­ing a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al life, expe­ri­enc­ing a full gamut of emo­tions, and we feel for him, because his ex-wife Rachel is a mon­ster, and here is Toby, pick­ing up the bro­ken pieces of her bad moth­er­ing.

But is she real­ly a mon­ster? Slow­ly and so sat­is­fy­ing­ly, the nov­el reveals itself, petal by petal. This is a nov­el about women, told through the lens of a man. Things are not what they seem, how Toby explains them to us. In fact, Toby is not the nar­ra­tor, his col­lege friend Eliz­a­beth is, and she’s wrestling with her own demons – if only Toby could pull his head out of his ass long enough to lis­ten to the women around him. If that were the case, maybe his mar­riage could have played out dif­fer­ent­ly. Maybe he wouldn’t have sown the seeds of Rachel’s even­tu­al, impend­ing fail­ure and, in turn, his own.

That is the clev­er­ness of Brodesser-Akner’s writ­ing, that she is able to use the most sym­pa­thet­ic fig­ure in pop­u­lar cul­ture, a straight white man, as a con­duit for com­mu­ni­cat­ing the plight of two very dif­fer­ent women, for com­mu­ni­cat­ing how soci­ety val­ues moth­er­hood more than it val­ues moth­ers.

And yet, there are no iden­ti­fi­able heroes nor vil­lains in Fleish­man. That is the beau­ty of Brodesser-Akner’s writ­ing, that she has enough empa­thy for every­one – every­one is strug­gling, every­one is just try­ing to nav­i­gate through mar­riage, iden­ti­ty, cap­i­tal­ism, gen­der norms, and the 21st Cen­tu­ry mea­sures of suc­cess we’re all taught to aspire to.

If you are a woman, you will get it, like Brodess­er-Akn­er gets it. Facets of her real-per­son­hood could be gleamed in Eliz­a­beth. She too lives in the sub­urbs with two chil­dren and a (by her own admis­sion) great hus­band, she too put in time at a men’s mag­a­zine, she too has prob­a­bly felt the dis­par­i­ty between hav­ing so much from the out­side while drown­ing on the inside.

If you are a man, hope­ful­ly you will get it too, by virtue of Brodesser-Akner’s inti­mate, heart-felt sto­ry-telling. Hope­ful­ly through Toby Fleish­man, you will extend your sym­pa­thy to the women of this nov­el, and the women of this world.

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