Book Review: Fleishman Is In Trouble // Taffy Brodesser-Akner

It’s definitely not unusual for debut novels to receive high amounts of acclaim and support,
but Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is In Trouble is perhaps one of the first I’ve seen that
has such a huge range of ‘high-profile’ readers. The novel’s praise has come from the likes of
Elizabeth Gilbert, Marian Keyes, and Nigella Lawson, I could go on. Recently divorced with a
new-found independence, Toby Fleishman attempts to navigate the world of online dating,
sporadic parenting responsibilities and his own mental health in the chaotic brilliance of
New York.

Firstly, I should probably disclaim that the wide-spread praise for Fleishman Is In Trouble is
largely what drew me in. I should also say I have a real affinity with novels that simply
explore human relationships and dynamics. I often find myself becoming attached to
rambling prose and the romanticisation of our connections to other people’s existence, so
the premise of Fleishman Is In Trouble appealed to me. Finally, I really love New York. All of that being said, you can understand why I opened the first pages with particularly high
expectations that were perhaps not quite met.

Since his divorce, Toby’s discovery of the dating app Hr and the fact that there are actual
women who want to sleep with him blows his mind. However, I almost expected his dating
escapades to hold more prominence in the book. The stories are underlying throughout, but
after that initial excitement and intrigue, Toby’s relationship with Hr changes. Instead of enjoying it, Brodesser-Akner cleverly portrays how it has become an overbearing
responsibility, weighing him down and adding an anxious feeling to his days, something I
think a lot of us will relate to. In this instance, pretty much all of Toby’s matches were
incredibly sexual with details on the pictures women send him and a constant stream of
innuendos. As a single 23-year-old, I’m not unfamiliar with the nature of dating apps but, I
also know there is another side to it. Small talk, the endless search for common ground,
miscommunication, a lack of attraction, none of it is straightforward and I felt like the more
uncomfortable awkwardness was overlooked. Toby is in his forties, so perhaps these things
are less prevalent for his generation but I doubt it, I have a feeling that a lot of the
strangeness of human interaction never really goes away.

Toby’s single life grows increasingly complicated, divorce has in fact not solved all his
problems or made his life as stress-free as he imagined. This is nothing ground-breaking, we
know the grass often looks greener, but reading Toby Fleishman’s own thought process and
frustrations at the turn his adult life had taken did make me think about the expectations
we set for ourselves. There is definitely a correlation in how meeting or missing our own
expectations impacts our happiness, again, not ground-breaking but something that the
book brought to the front of my mind. The parenting roles of Toby and his ex-wife means
that alongside the underlying theme of adult dating, the conversation of motherhood vs
fatherhood is always present. I could write about this for hours but I’ll just say that once
again, Brodesser-Akner is very clever in the way she makes you reflect on your own values
and opinions, especially at the end of the book. She writes about the dynamic and
difficulties of parenting in a way that is so subtly disguised you feel almost foolish for not
noticing how glaringly obvious they are.

Fleishman Is In Trouble is not one of my favourite books. I didn’t fall into it and finish it in a
day, I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny like so many others and I never quite managed to
warm to the characters. That being said, it did leave me with a lot of food for thought,
including how much we, or in this instance, I, rely on other people’s opinions and
recommendations. There is no shame in forming an opinion for yourself, in disagreeing with
others and not understanding why people love something so much, even if those people are
the likes of Dolly Alderton and David Nicholls

Words by India Garrett

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