Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Bookshelves: unreliable-narrator, the-patriarchy, burn-it-down, chick-lit, eat-the-rich, suburbia, feminism, lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous, women, dark-humor, popular-fiction, everyone-loved-it-but-me, high-society, love-the-cover, social-commentary
This novel was #28 on my 2020 Reading Challenge, a book with an upside-down image on the cover. I liked the cover. The book itself pulls off the rare feat of being well-written and insightful while annoying the fuck out of me at the same time.
TL;DR: This is a clever novel with deep insight and sardonic wit that I might appreciate more were I not a lifelong card-carrying member of The Poors.
There’s a lot here about every last damn thing the world expects of women, and what happens when we can’t, or won’t, or simply don’t want to, meet those expectations. There’s a savage edge to it in that we only see the women in the story through the eyes of an insecure, flailing-but-doesn’t-dare-show-it man – which is nothing new. The male gaze, it never ends.
So while I rolled my eyes a lot about how often Brodesser-Akner hit the nail on the head, I rolled them even harder at how unrelatable the characters were for me. Wealthy, social-climbing, pretentious, Lululemon-clad, well-massaged rich bitches all the way. Yes, I’m sure it’s stressful having to spend so much time and effort interviewing nannies and figuring which $40,000-a-year private school is best for your little darling. Yes, I can imagine the pressure of hitting just the right note as you decorate your weekend house in the Hamptons. You poor thing. Fuck you.
But here’s the rub. As I noted above, the women in this book, and most particularly Rachel, are all seen through Toby’s eyes. So, how do we know what’s the real story with Rachel, or with any of the 6,724 women Toby is banging and sexting with while angling his phone so his kids can’t see? I’m generalizing here, I admit that, but men as a rule are clueless when it comes to the never-ending, thankless work that women do to run the household, feed and clothe a family (someone has to remember to put butter on the shopping list and take little Mavis shopping for new cleats), supervise the children’s educations and social learning (keep your elbows off the table, and is your homework done?), have their own careers (miss me with that women-don’t-have-to-have-careers shit; most families can’t live decently on one income anymore), maintain everyone’s social life as a family unit and as separate people (someone’s got to get the kids to soccer practice and “play dates,” and I hate the phrase “play date”), maintaining family relationships (guess who remembers to send Grandma a birthday card), orchestrate vacations and holidays (a nice Christmas is a lot of work), and feed and nurture the spousal relationship (I also hate the phrase “date night”). So, what Toby sees as bossy and domineering may well be Rachel doing what it takes to make sure everyone’s homework gets done and that they all have a festive Thanksgiving and clean underwear.
I mean, just the other day I had to nag at my husband for the 9,854th time to please please please clean up the crumbs and mustard smears after he makes himself a sandwich so we don’t attract ants; good god, you’d think I asked him to kill the Hydra. And I didn’t even mention his freakingly annoying habit of waiting until 15 minutes after I’ve cleaned up the kitchen (you notice that I’m the one who does that, even though I work full time and he doesn’t) before deciding he has to have a sandwich and leaving another fucking mess. So, this is what women deal with, all day, every day, and I can’t trust Toby’s word about any of Rachel’s so-called priorities.
But on the other hand, Rachel has the right to make her own choices. If she doesn’t want to settle for living on her husbands “shabby” 300K-a-year doctor’s income (oh, poor you again,) she doesn’t have to. There’s no reason she can’t be the ambitious, career-driven half of the couple while her husband pursues his calling as a healer and walks the kids to school in the morning. Gender roles, schmender roles.
But it was the wealth and privilege that seriously made me want to tell everyone in this book to go fuck themselves. I’d much rather read about women who deal with every damn aspect of the patriarchy while also working full time at normal-people jobs such as paralegal or teacher, and trying to train their husbands who also work at typical jobs, while also cleaning their own houses and mothering their own kids and trying to fit in some sort of fitness routine, and doing all of it on an actual budget.
I’m all about burning down the patriarchy, sure. But also, eat the rich.*
*It is perhaps worth noting that I’m writing this review while on lockdown as the COVID-19 pandemic is decimating the U.S. and we are seeing more clearly how relatively useless the wealthy really are.