Fleishman is in trouble by debut novelist Taffy Brodesser-Akner is the sort of book you want to discuss with someone – as you’re reading it, as soon as you’ve finished reading it – perfect bookclub material.
Toby Fleishman is a New York hepatologist with a recently separated wife and two children. The story begins with a newfound sense of sexual freedom for Fleishman – he’s free to indulge in all sorts of sexual encounters – online, in person, dates that work, dates that don’t work. He’s almost giddy with it – as a five-foot-five Jewish man who was overweight as a child, all of a sudden there are women who want him.
But his ex-wife Rachael goes missing. She’s dropped the kids off a day earlier than expected without telling him, gone off to a yoga weekend retreat and hasn’t come back.
Fleishman navigates the difficult world of his medical work, his two children (thank goodness for summer camps), his missing ex-wife and his forays into dating.
Brodesser-Aknew explores relationships not only through Fleishman’s marriage but through the stories of the women he dates, as well as his two best friends, Libby (going through her own existential crisis in her marriage to a perfectly nice man) and Seth (never committed, constantly dating, recently engaged). Fleishman becomes ‘the wife’, as his divorce lawyer tells him – he earns less money than Rachael and he has more responsibilities with the kids.
it was interesting to observe the gradual decline of Fleishman’s interest in online dating apps, once his twelve-year-old daughter received her phone. There’s a small incident with her and a photo, which shocks Fleishman and makes him question his own obsession with the photos women on dating apps have sent him.
The narrator is Libby, Fleishman’s friend from college days. She appears and disappears, leaving the reader a tad bemused that she pops up out of nowhere to insert herself in the story. I did wonder how Libby could possibly know so intimately Fleishman’s thoughts and feelings, let alone the nuanced and detailed encounters with Rachael, his kids, his co-workers?
And yet her invisibility in parts of the novel echo not only Rachael’s disappearance but also the general theme of women’s invisibility throughout the novel.
Rachael is only seen through Fleishman’s eyes for the majority of the novel – it is only towards the end that we catch a glimpse through Libby of Rachael. While Fleishman is an empathetic character, a doctor who ‘sees’ his patients, an involved and tender dad, we realise at the end of the novel that perhaps his view of his marriage (and his friendship with Libby) was not entirely accurate.
See – so much to discuss!