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Novel set in New York (sorry, but I just don’t get it)

24th January 2020

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, novel set in New York.

Novel set in New York

Fleischman is in Trouble was one of the novels of 2019. It was a Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller and no less a literary luminary than Grace Dent said: ‘this could be one of the books of my entire lifetime. I’ve never felt so seen.’

Sorry, but I just don’t get it.

Sure, it’s funny in places…in a darkly comic, New York angst-ridden Jewish kinda way..

Sure, it’s on the money with some of the observations about the challenges of modern life.

Sure, the Fleishmans – Toby, a 41 year-old 5’5″ hepatologist and Rachel, the succesful, ball-breaking, social-climbing, disillusioned wife with her own talent agency – are well drawn characters.

But maybe I just didn’t really like Toby. Or Rachel. Or the novel’s structure. Or its messages.

For the first 200 pages (Part One – ‘Fleishman Is in Trouble‘ ) we follow Toby around New York. His estranged wife Rachel has dumped the kids – stroppy 11 year-old Hannah and her sweeter, more innocent younger brother Solly – at Toby’s apartment at 4 in the morning. Without telling him. And now she’s disappeared. Which is kinda awkward because Toby is making up for lost time, having sex all over the city, or on the phone.

At night, he continued to receive messages from Nahid, and with every nipple/lip/abdomen picture and double entendre, he thought what a crazy world this was, that he was in a deep torture-spiral of anxiety about where the hell his wife was – a spiral that he smiled through so as not to tip off his children – and he was sexting with a woman he’d never met as if everything were a-fucking okay.’

The third and final short section – Part Three ‘Rachel Fleishman Is in Trouble‘ – engaged me more, but Rachel’s story is a sad indictment of her and the materialist aspirations she has espoused.

She tried for years to get him to negotiate upward, to want more, but he just didn’t. More money would have been nice, he said, but what she was asking of him was to do something completely different , which was ‘heal the sick’ (the self-righteousness was not a small thing to negotiate in these conversations).

An old friend of Toby’s, Libby, shows up as the narrator in Part Two – ‘God, What an Idiot He Was‘. Libby, Toby and their cool, wasted friend Seth met in Israel. Libby was a magazine features writer and moves to New Jersey, worse then hell in Rachel’s eyes. Seth falls in love with a much younger girl. There’s a storyline about one of Toby’s patients. Poor abandoned Hannah is sent home from camp for inappropriate behaviour.

Sure, this debut novel from Taffy Brodesser-Akner has its merits. And I guarantee it will be adapted onto a screen. And goodness me, it’s earned some literary garlands from many more qualified critics than me.

But sorry, I just don’t get it.

For lovers of TripFiction, New York City is brought vividly to life, mainly by the headlong rush to make a quick buck on every corner and buy a house in the Hamptons, but also by occasional physical descriptions of this magical city.

They ate their bagels, so normal, so normal, and they walked around the Village, then up Fifth Avenue, then west. They walked up through Hell’s Kitchen, then diagonally through Midtown, then diagonally back through the park, where it began to snow a soft and quiet early-March dust.

Andrew for the TripFiction Team

Ten great books set in New York

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  1. User: Leah Tonna

    Posted on: 24/01/2020 at 9:39 am

    Thanks for that honest review Andrew, I’m now quite sure I’d hate the characters, so won’t be buying the book.



    • User: BettinaH

      Posted on: 29/01/2020 at 9:16 am

      I saw that India Knight loved this one (I think she said, even, that it was her book of 2019) and was tempted, picked it up and just couldn’t get into it


    • User: tripfiction

      Posted on: 24/01/2020 at 2:15 pm

      We saw that India Knight loved it… everyone has such different tastes!