I am thrilled to be finally taking my turn on the Blog Tour for Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodessor- Anker, in order to celebrate the UK paperback release. Huge thanks to Anne Cater for putting this one my way!
This is a book which has already received huge acclaim and attention. Labelled ‘Astonishingly brilliant’ by Dolly Alderton and ‘Rare and delicious’ by Maria Semple, it has gone on to be long-listed for The Women’s Prize for Fiction. In short this book has been every where!
So, what’s it all about and does it live up to it’s hype…?
Welcome to the story of Toby Fleishman. A 40 something NYC Doctor, who is on the cusp of divorce from his wife Rachel. The couple have two children of whom they share custody. It is the long summer break and Rachel has disappeared…
Through what appears to be Toby’s eyes we see him struggle to juggle his work commitments, children and social life. We also see his perspective on his failed marriage, his future and his very dark view of Rachel.
Toby presents a very clear view of his marriage and the reasons it has failed. Rachel is successful, running, what emerges to be, a multi million dollar talent agency that she has built up herself. Toby portrays his soon-to-be-ex-wife as self centred and selfish. Her priorities are work, social climbing and she is neglectful with regard to her children.
At first, pulled into to Toby’s view point, the reader is very firmly on his side. He presents his case forcefully, and of course the facts back him up. I mean what kind of mother just leaves her children, right?
But then a shift begins. Almost imperceptibly at first Brodesser- Anker begins to lift the veil on Toby’s version of events and our perspective begins to change. At first the discord is created by Toby’s actions. We see this devoted father, claiming to put the needs of his children first, but at the same time desperately engineering any time he can to slip away for sexual encounters with women he has met through a host of dating apps. We become aware of Toby’s own physical insecurities, which begin to make him seem defensive, even combative. We seen him fire a loyal employee for one potential mistake.
The introduction, in a very clever and emerging sense, of the character of Libby allows the author another lens through which to see Toby and his marriage. Libby likes, even loves Toby, but as a very old friend she sees him with clarity. She knows his flaws. In terms of Rachel, Libby herself is going through her own struggles with career and motherhood. She understands what it is like to be a successful woman in man’s world and try to juggle the expectations of marriage, career and society at large. Libby seems to provide the reader with the perfect bridge between the couple, a much needed dual perspective. But in fact, in a stroke of genius, she actually provides so much more..
Finally the novel allows Rachel her voice, and we get to see this marriage from her point of view. Rachel is the chief bread winner in their family. It is her hard work and success that allows the Fleishman’s to move in the upper reaches of New York society. She has taken society at their word, followed the American Dream and achieved what she has been promised. Namely that a woman can have everything. Successful career, happy family life, contented husband, perfect children. And suddenly in achieving this she has become a piranha, a perceived monster, guilty of neglect, hard and unfeeling.
With this glorious shift in perspective the author is showing us what happens when roles are effectively reversed and a woman steps up to the traditional man’s role in a marriage and society. Does that role bend to accommodate all the challenges and expectations of motherhood, childbirth and general domestic today life? Or does it harden into a trap or another stick to beat women with? Societal double standard are woven throughout the novel. They overwhelm Rachel’s perspective but they also invade the story of her daughter. On the cusp of teenage hood and punished for a mistake at camp, while her male counterpart has his role downplayed and ignored.
There is so much within this novel. It is skilled and multilayered, feminist commentary on societal expectations, marriage, divorce, childbirth, consumerism, upbringing and so much more. It looks at core values, both on an individual and societal level, and asks what happens, both in marriage and society when those core values are incompatible or misunderstood.
This novel challenges the stereotypes of women and asks that all important question. Can we have it all? If so, who decides and who will judge? It suggests that for women to truly rise and not be broken in the process there needs to be a far reaching shift in not only opportunities but attitudes from both genders within society.
The title ‘Fleishman is in Trouble’ seems very clearly at the beginning of the novel to apply to Toby. It is a traditionally masculine statement, referring to the character by their surname. But by the end of the novel you will certainly be questioning just which Fleishman is really in trouble.
There is humour in this novel, a wit and understanding that pulls the reader in and holds you there. But quite suddenly the author shifts and you find yourself staring into the face of pathos and real sadness. This is a book to challenge, to push those boundaries and ignite discussions. Finishing this book doesn’t feel like an ending; it feels like a beginning. The start of a long overdue and complex conversation.
And there is more…
I guarantee that everyone who reviews this book is going to pick up on a different angle, different issue and perspective. So for more reviews and reactions check out the rest of the blog tour below…