Remember that episode of Friends where Monica and Rachel are into the hot doctors? That’s the situation that Dr. Toby Fleishman finds himself in after separating from his wife of 15 years in the absorbing novel Fleishman is in Trouble. Rachel, his soon-to-be ex-wife, is a highly motivated talent agent who started her own firm and whose income provides the family with a highly comfortable lifestyle.
Women are just gaga over this doctor in his early 40s. Toby downloads dating apps at the behest of his fellows at the hospital, and finds himself both enjoying and somewhat disconcerted by the ease with which he can find sex through technology.
When Rachel suddenly disappears, Toby’s newly-found bachelorhood grinds to a halt as the couple’s children move in with him for the summer, and he attempts to process his feelings about the demise of his marriage while juggling work, his kids, and his wife’s perceived betrayals.
This book has a truly unique narrative style that is both captivating and off-putting. Toby’s thoughts and struggles are described in a constant, unstoppable wave — from his moments of sheer hatred toward Rachel, to his insecurity about his short stature, to his eating disorder, to his lust … It feels like an endless flow until our narrator, a college friend of Toby’s, gently inserts herself into the story and takes it into an entirely different direction.
Through the course of the novel the reader learns of the couple’s origins as well as each of their childhoods and personal development. The reader is also faced with a number of questions that they may not have anticipated upon picking up a novel — what is the use of the construct of marriage, these days? How does society as a whole treat fathers that are the primary caregivers to their children, and mothers who are the higher wage-earners in their households? Is it improper to want one’s children to grow up in a more elevated social status? Does owning two homes make someone a bad person? Can pain and loss be measured on a spectrum, and should it? Do we expect mothers to give up their lives entirely when they have children?
As a married person, I found this book tough to read. As a female person, I found this book tough to read. I don’t think the author intended it to be a joyride. The stream-of-consciousness style writing is similar to a person’s internal monologue, which makes it familiar. We have all had thoughts that come in waves, of varied topics, from the mundane to the extraordinary. When a marriage falls apart, it’s helpful to examine it from the inside out, and that’s what Taffy Brodesser-Akner does in this book — performs a marriage autopsy.