'How miserable is too miserable?'
I haven't read in a long time such a mind blowing novel featuring so many important ideas about relationships nowadays. Ideas that are actually up in the air but rarely formulated so clearly and literarily as in Fleishman is in trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.
Meet Toby, a relatively successful MD, from an easygoing middle-class Jewish family from LA, in his early 40s. Meet Rachel his (ex)wife from a broken family, a very successful business woman. They have two beautiful children that are part of the usual high-end educational circles with a permanent baby sitter and many hobby classes and private classes.
Married for a long time but unhappy. Love is gone? Maybe way too many social obligations and bills to pay and pressure to be as fast as possible in climbing the social ladder. That's what happens when you are not born in the big, very big money. You have to fight hard your way.
Now, they are in the last stage of divorcing. The story of the sudden freedom is told differently by Rachel and Toby.
Toby is downloading a couple of dating apps and starts exploring. Just think about it: you haven't dated since the 1990s and out of nowhere you are brought in a world where the first online contact is a sexting message. Not necessarily lack of inhibitions, but lack of interest in something more than the immediate. This suited Toby's hunger - and anger - for new: 'Toby realizes he was under no moral obligation to marry the woman he kissed'. 'He heft like he might combust from the freedom he felt. All this new opportunity! There weren't enough hours in the day!'. Or, in the words of his eternal bachelor friend Seth: 'Marriage is for young people who don't have a concept of time (...). It's for people whose lives will be made measurable better by it'. The brave experimental Seth will finally propose his girlfriend until the end of the novel.
But his enthusiasm for the midlife sexual freedom is often undone by his anger. Because Rachel is in trouble too. She disappear without trace for weeks and he has the full responsibilities of the children, besides some difficult cases at the hospital. For a couple of pages, you might fully sympathize with Toby against the career obsessed woman. How can you leave your children like this, after all? How can you leave such a great man like Toby, faithful, home-bound and dedicated?
Wait to listen Rachel's story. Which has equal elements of sympathy. How does it feel to be a woman not born into wealth, with ambitions and a good mind and unable to advance because...men. Men who would rather prefer to hit on her than to promote her for her achievements, who would criticize her for being too focused on her work (her husband) although she is the main source of revenue. She is taken back by her gender, by her family condition - two children, by her age. She is never enough, regardless of how much time she invests in her business, planning her children schedule, in her yoga classes or while trying to decorate her house according to the high society standards. The tragical part is that women like Rachel grew up dreaming and being encouraged to think that being a woman and successful is easily achievable. I personally think it might be achieved but easy is not and personal sacrifices, like family are at stake.
I love both of them, Rachel and Toby. They have candid believes that they own their present. They are a bit out of this world because maybe dreamed too much. Some of their dreams are obsolete, but they are candid and with a good heart. Will miss both of them.
Rating: 5 stars