By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #32 – Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Is it possible to write a feminist novel with a male protagonist? Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffi Brodesser-Akner shows the answer is yes!

There are two sides to every story. Traditionally, when it comes to marriage, these sides are taken by men and women. Or, even more traditionally, men decided what the women were on their side. Thankfully, times are changing; marriages don’t have to be between men and women anymore, and women turn out to be very capable of telling their own stories, thank you very much. Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s debut novel Fleishman Is in Trouble takes a good look at these traditional roles. Want to know what it’s about? Read on!

Fleishman Is in Trouble is about Toby Fleishman, a Jewish hepatologist from New York who is feeling very sorry for himself. He’s recently been divorced from Rachel – you know the type: only interested in status, always working late, and not spending any time with her family – who dumps her children at Toby’s new place and then vanishes from the world for weeks. Toby is desperately trying to manage his job, his family, and his dating life, and would really like to know where his ex-wife went.

It’s funny how the stories we tell others always favour ourselves. This is most definitely the case in Fleishman is in Trouble. When we first meet Toby Fleishman, we simply have to know that a) he’s a doctor, b) he’s short, and c) he has just divorced a monster. As a result, he hates people who make more money than he does (which is almost everyone), he hates those who are taller than he is (also, which is almost everyone), and above all else, he hates his ex-wife (who is tall and makes a lot of money). Oh, and d) according to his dating app, he is a wildly attractive man, for plenty of women want to have sex with him.

Toby is the kind of man who needs constant validation from others. He needs the women he’s dating with to tell him he’s amazing (it helps that you can write your own bio in these apps), and his best friend Libby is only there to convince him he’s doing alright. Libby, who used to be a writer for a men’s magazine, decides to write down Toby’s story. Eventually, Libby realises that listening to Toby is very much like writing for that men’s magazine, since he never listens to her, and he cannot possibly imagine Libby (who’s rich, lives in a big house, and is happily married to a tall (!) man) having a hard time so let’s just focus on Toby’s problems again, shall we?

Only at the very end of the novel do we find out what has really happened to Rachel, when Libby accidentally bumps into her in a park somewhere in New York. Libby takes care of her, because Rachel is confused and doesn’t quite know what exactly happened to her. It does, however, become clear that Rachel isn’t as purely evil as Toby thinks she is. Slowly but surely, we realise that Toby isn’t as noble and as wronged as he claims to be.

There is so much more to Fleishman Is in Trouble than I initially thought. I was convinced the novel would be about an average man (Toby would never forgive me if he heard me describe him as such – but then again, he’d hate me anyway because I’m tall) living in New York City trying to make sense of his chaotic but horny post-marriage life. It just had to be with a title like that, didn’t it? Turns out, the title might just as well refer to Rachel, since it’s her last name, too.

Actually, nothing about this novel is about Toby, or men in general. Instead, it is about women. Even Toby’s dating adventures are about women, because they are the ones chasing him and sending him nude pictures. However, the most important character is Libby. When she was still working at a men’s magazine, she realised more and more that she had to write with a man’s perspective. Furthermore, she noticed that men could get away with being self-assured, while women would be considered narcissistic if they would be saying the same thing. The only way she could share her opinion was to make it sound like a man voiced it. Brodesser-Akner does the same thing; she shares her opinion through Libby, Toby, and Rachel, and turns Fleishman Is in Trouble, which could easily have been a chick flick, into a feminist novel. And Toby doesn’t even know it, for he’s far too busy looking down on women.  

Look what happens if you delete the first syllable of the title…

For a long time, women were seen as inferior to men. Women were the ones who stayed at home when they were married, they took care of the children, and they would make sure men were living happy lives. Taffy Brodesser-Akner clearly wanted to destroy that traditional ideal with her debut novel. Yes, she claims, women can earn more money than men; yes, it’s acceptable for women to celebrate their (financial) successes; yes, women can enjoy being tall; and yes, women can love sex, too. Dear old Toby Fleishman is a representative of all those men who fail to understand that the world is no longer solely theirs.

There are two sides to every story. Traditionally, men decided which story was told, but recently, women’s voices have become more and more plentiful and powerful. Some men might still not be able to accept this, but Fleishman Is in Trouble shows that they don’t really have an option anymore. I bet it’s quite frightening for them, but I can’t say I care much. It’s time they found out what it’s been like for women, for ages. Watch out, men, because we are coming – and we have a story to tell.

What did you think of Fleishman Is in Trouble? Do you think women still have to prove themselves much more than men? What are your favourite feminist novels? Do let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book-related posts!

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: