I’m a big fan of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s celebrity profile pieces for magazines like The New Yorker and GQ- they are smart, insightful and well-written essays that reflect on larger cultural issues as filtered through the lens of a particular celebrity. Given this history, I had high hopes for her first novel.
The plot in Fleishman is straightforward: Toby Fleishman, a specialist physician in Manhattan, is in the process of divorcing his wife, Rachel. Rachel drops their two kids off at Toby’s rental apartment one morning and then disappears. Toby angrily solo parents while going on a series of mediocre online dates and having a lot of random sex. Eventually we get a short section focusing on Rachel and what she’s been up to while AWOL. The plot is thin because this isn’t really a ‘plot’ novel. As with her celebrity profiles, Brodesser-Ackner’s real interest is in character, so that’s what the novel focuses on.
Unfortunately the novel fell short of my expectations. To begin with, and even knowing her interest lies in character, I was expecting more, plot-wise. The ‘missing wife’ set up made me think that what was happening with Rachel would have been a plot twist, maybe even a Gone Girl-esque plot twist. There was so much latent build of ‘where is she’, that the benign events revealed in the final Rachel section made for a let down.
In addition, the constant focus on Toby and detailed attention to his new sex life, was tedious. The repetitive descriptions didn’t add much to the story, other than making me less sympathetic to the character we got the most of.
All told, I don’t think I’d recommend this or pass it on to a friend. It wasn’t horrible- Brodesser-Ackner writes too well for it to be horrible- but I didn’t like the main character and I didn’t feel like I came away with more insight into the human condition. Meh.