I've read several books this month (a few have been impressive), but somehow I haven't cared to write about any of them. At the beginning of the month I read Queenie, by Candice Carty-Williams. I loved it. It's hilarious and, at times, "unputdownable." I also read The Gifted School, the third novel by Bruce Holsinger (an English professor at UVA). By the end I couldn't spend any more time thinking about K-12 magnets for "gifted" (mostly white/mostly affluent/all test-prepped) kiddos. I do enough of that in my day to day. All to say, I punted on the opportunity to spend any further time thinking/writing/talking about Holsinger. Today, I finished Brodesser-Akner's first novel, Fleishman is in Trouble. And I guess I will write about it because I do have a few things to say.
Most critics describe Brodesser-Akner's book as some sort of "twist" on the typical marriage novel (the New Yorker claims that it's a marriage novel "turned inside out," which is a sort of twisting-- my claim stands). A few people describe the book as a "twist" on the typical divorce novel. I won't quibble with terminology here, as it has become clear to most millennials that "marriage novels" and "divorce novels" are merely separate fragments of the same story: marriage novels don't extend enough for readers to understand that this too might simply be a divorce novel, and divorce novels don't extend enough for readers to understand that this too might still turn back into a marriage novel. All this to say, Brodesser-Akner's debut is a marriage novel and a divorce novel (and then, in the last few pages, maybe a marriage novel all over again). It's "twist"-y because Brodesser-Akner paints the woman (the Mom!) as the career-obsessed money monger while her husband is the always suffering "good parent" who remembers to pack lunches, limit screen time, and help with science fair projects. Yes-- this is still a revolutionary choice in 2019.
Anyhow, to close, Brodesser-Akner is very clever here because she spends almost the entire 350-page novel tricking the reader into feeling bad for this stellar, gold-star husband: he walks the kids to the bus every morning! he makes dinner every night! he puts the kids to bed! WHAT A FUCKING HERO. Also, an aside: HIS WIFE MUST BE A FUCKING MONSTER IF SHE WANTS A DIVORCE. It's only at the very end of the book that we get to hear about the marriage from the woman's point of view, and her story confirms all my suspicions about her NOT-SO GOLD STAR husband. I definitely recommend this book for lovers of Franzen, Updike, and Groff. There are a few minor things that bother me: I struggled with the third person narrator-- I didn't want to hear the story from this person outside the marriage. That said, some people seem to think this is a brilliant tactic, so....