When There Are Two Sides To the Story

Just when I thought I had almost certainly read everything there is to be read about relationships, I was recommended Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner. This is a book you will want need to read if you identify with any of the following:

– You are married
– You are in a relationship, or have been, or not necessarily
– You have children, or not necessarily
– You are ambitious with your career
– You earn more money than your spouse
– You appreciate excellent, funny, sarcastic, critical writing
– You like really good stories with a good old twist.

Set in New York, Fleishman Is in Trouble tells a story, or multiple stories, about professionals approaching midlife and all the inevitable crises it entails. Toby Fleishman is about to divorce his wife Rachel, an extremely successful business owner, when she suddenly goes AWOL and leaves Toby to deal with their two kids and the consequences deriving from his very active dating app profile. What happens, when the busy hepatologist tries to come to terms with being full-time dad to two pre-teens?

I would like to to tell you what happens plot-wise, but want to save you the discovery of the true Trojan horse towards the end of the book. I admit: I was ready to draw my conclusions based on the first half, but it’s really well after that when the story gets properly told.

The narrator is Toby’s friend Elizabeth “Libby” with whom he continues to stay in touch. Libby does some excellent relationship reflection on her own, as she thinks back on her life and a bygone affair with a married colleague:

I thought of that time now, how I imagined wanting someone else’s life instead of doing the work of imagining my own. God, what a fucking idiot I was. My dreams were so small. My desires were so basic and showed such a lack of imagination. I had been so creative in every other aspect of my life: how I’d turned out so conventional and so very establishment was bewildering.

I would not rave about this book if it didn’t contain some excellent societal criticism as well – and as I said, I did almost completely fall on the one-sided narration in the beginning, and adm, almost with some embarrassment, how I lacked any criticism until it hit me in the face.

She would bump into one of the teachers in the morning who would say,”It’s so amazing the way your husband drops them off every morning.” She wanted to say, “Isn’t it amazing how I pay the fucking mortgage? Isn’t it amazing how my children have schedules that are more complex than the president’s and that they’ll graduate from elementary school prepared for three or four careers that you need a graduate degree for? Isn’t it amazing the role model I am for my children?”

There are multiple layers that unravel as the story goes on – relationships and marriage are of course the most prominent, but money comes very close second: the story takes place in New York, after all. Many Europeans would not need to worry about some of the issues the way the Fleishman family has to (and the Fleishman family is objectively speaking extremely wealthy and also white), yet many universal questions remain: can a woman earn more than a man without being vilified, if not by her spouse, at least by the society? What is the acceptable amount of ambition for a career woman? Or a man?

You still had to tiptoe around the fragility of a man … which was absolutely intolerable for anyone who was out there working and getting respect and becoming the person that others had to tiptoe around. That these men could be so delicate, that they could lack any inkling of self-examination when it came time to try to figure out why their women didn’t seem to be batshit enthusiastic over another night of bolstering and patting and fellating every insecurity out of them – this was the thing we’d find intolerable.

Read this book. I’m not doing the “If you only read one/two/ten books this year..” thing. I don’t care if you read hundred books this year, you still really should read Fleishman Is in Trouble.

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