Communication breaks down when one partner lacks the ability to ‘walk in the shoes of the other’ or to understand the viewpoint and experiences of his or her significant other. It often happens in relationships when two people may be speaking in the same language but due to their respective expectations, attitudes and experiences, they might as well be speaking in different languages. It is as if they come from different planets. Do we really know who we are and the person with whom we are sharing our life? Ultimately it is about their willingness to listen and consider each other’s point of view and see where they are coming from.
Fleishman is in Trouble is an insightful fiction written by Taffy Brodesser- Akner about realities of marriage in the modern world.
Dr Toby Fleishman and his wife, Rachel are separated after being married for fifteen years. They live in New York. He is 41, Jewish and a reputable hepatologist. Beautiful Rachel is driven and a successful talent agent . Toby is contented with bringing home an annual income of a quarter of millions as a doctor and a family man. Rachel has not been able to find a good life balance between her ambition and her role as a wife and a mother. They have shared custody of two children who are eleven-year- old Hannah and nine-year-old Solly. One day Rachel drops their children off at Toby’s apartment and vanishes. For weeks Toby is unable to contact her so he has to juggle his time between caring for his children, his work at the hospital and his social life. He has signed up with an online dating app to go on dates with women who have sex with him but none of the dates develop into relationships. He feels lonely.
Toby seeks out his college friends, Libby Epstein and Seth for emotional support. Libby is happy to be gifted the portal to re-connect with her freewheeling youth as she finds adulthood has consistently made her feel sidelined, first as a writer for a Men’s magazine and subsequently as a suburban stay-at-home mother in New Jersey. The story is narrated from her perspectives and in narrating Toby’s life story, she is actually examining her own life.
Here are some excerpts of her musings.
‘To be a woman at a men’s magazine is to have a very specific task : It’s either to be compliant or noisy, to be the category: other person asking the questions that a man wasn’t allowed to ask in a time of burgeoning political correctness, or to be the wide-eyed kitten that maybe had sex with her subject. After I had Sasha, I wasn’t sure which one I was anymore, though I had been both at a certain time. Whatever kind of woman you are, even when you’re a lot of kinds of women, you’re still always just a woman, which is to say you’re always a little bit less than a man.’
‘ I thought about that. I wrote mostly about men. I hadn’t interviewed a lot of women. Whenever I did, stories were always about the struggle to be the kind of woman who got interviewed —the writers who were counted out, the politicians who were mistaken for secretaries, the actresses who were told they were too fat and tall and short and skinny and ugly and pretty. It was all the same story, which is not to say it wasn’t important. But it was boring. The first time I interviewed a man, I understood we were talking about something more like the soul.
The men hadn’t had any external troubles. They didn’t have a fear that they didn’t belong. They hadn’t had any obstacles. They were born knowing they belonged, and they were reassured at every turn just in case they’d forgotten. But they were still creative and still people, and so they reached for problems out of an artistic sense of yearning. Their problems weren’t real. They had no identity struggle, no illness, no money fears. Instead, they had found the true stuff of their souls —- of all our souls — the wound lying beneath all the survivalism and circumstance.’
After interviewing these men and writing heartfelt stories about their lives, extrapolating from what these interviewees gave her, Libby realizes that all humans are essentially the same and somehow the men are truly allowed to be what being human is without apology.
‘ The men’s humanity was sexy and complicated; ours (mine) was to be kept in the dark at the bottom of the story and was only interesting in the service of the man’s humanity.’
Libby is married to Adam, a very understanding and patient husband. She needs to find her grounding after quitting her writing job to become a mother and a housewife.
Here are some part of the passages that I feel are keen observations of contemporary women.
“ Rachel and I, we’d been raised to do what we wanted to do, and we had; we’d been successful, and we’d shown everyone. We didn’t need to wear apocryphal T-shirts because we already knew the secret, which was this : that when you did succeed, when you did out-earn and outpace, when you did exceed all expectations, nothing around you really shifted. You still had to tiptoe around the fragility of a man, which was okay for the women who got to shop and drink martinis all day —- this was their compensation; they had done their own negotiations – but was absolutely intolerable for anyone who was there working and getting respect and becoming the person that others had to tiptoe around. That these men could be so delicate, that they could lack any inkling of self-examination when it came time to try to figure out why their women didn’t seem to be batshit enthusiastic over another night of bolstering and patting and fellating every insecurity out of them —- this was the thing we’d find intolerable.
I got something else – I got to live in a constant fog of regret and ambivalence. The fog made me directionless, until one day, I found myself scrolling through stupid Facebook, whose passive stream gave me room to wonder, and I thought : How could I find my way back to a moment where my life wasn’t a flood of obligations but an endless series of choices, each one designed to teach me something about existence and the world as opposed to marring me for life ? At some point, I didn’t remember when, I had taken all my freedom and independence, and pushed them across the poker at Adan and said, “ Here , take my jackpot. Take it all. I don’t need it anymore. I won’t miss it ever.”
“I would try to be a good partner to ……, and I would try not to put too much weight on the moments that are the worst in a marriage: when one of you is in a good mood and the other can’t recognise it or rise to its occasion and so leaves the other dangling in the loneliness of it; when one of you pretends to not really understand what the other person is saying and instead holds that person to a technicality they don’t deserve”
The debut novelist has very keen observations about the challenges of mid-life crises, marriages, psychic of men and women, sexism in the workplace and raising kids and dynamics between friends and couples.