It’s a little weird to push a debut novel that’s already won rave reviews, comparisons to Phillip Roth, a nomination for the National Book Award and was subject of a 10 producer bidding war for limited series rights (won last fall by FX).
But I absolutely loved this novel.
Fleishman is in Trouble is mostly about the divorce of Toby and Rachel Fleishman, he a hepotologist and she a high powered talent agent who helped turn an off Broadway one woman show into the Fleishmaniverse’s Hamilton. They have two children, an awkward and introverted son and a daughter on the verge of adolescence. It’s a book about privilege and rich people problems, yes, but there’s so much more going on.
The story is told, The Great Gatsby style by Libby, a former writer for a men’s magazine who reconnects with Toby and then with Rachel, during a crack-up August as the two finalize their divorce. Like Nick Carroway, she’s an interested observer, though not objective. Unlike Nick, she has her own issues to work out that parallel and add to the story. Since Taffy Brodesser-Akner is also a magazine writer, readers will assume Libby is a stand-in for the author, but all of these characters are so fully imagined that I would not make that leap.
It’s amazing how every character gets their due in this book, with the notable exception of Miriam, who just can’t seem to be fleshed out towards redemption because she’s so… well, you’ll see. She’s really ugh.
It’s poignant, it’s funny, it’s a little sexy and if you have time to pick up and read a copy before the mini-series comes out, it’s more than worth the trouble.
Last spring, The New York Times published “Woody Allen Pitched a Memoir. Publishers Weren’t Interested.” The idea here is that Woody had been effectively cancelled and this came on the heels of Amazon censoring his very fun film A Rainy Day in New York (I saw it in Amsterdam last fall). Allen warned that the Times had the story wrong. Publishers were interested, he said. Well, it turns out that Grand Central Publishing bought the rights to it two months before the Times story ran.
Hopefully, this means that American culture is ready to re-embrace one of its best and most prolific artists. It also hopefully means that A Rainy Day in New York will be released in the U.S. soon and that the upcoming Rifkin’s Festival will also be available to Woody’s fans.
In my daily life, I am surrounded by people making astounding claims about computational power. Many of these claims are true. Insurance underwriters can increasingly predict our mortality based on our habits and behaviors and the more data they have, the more accurate they can be. Psychologists at Lancaster University have set computers to the task of figuring out whether Edgar Allen Poe killed himself after a descent into severe depression.
The researchers conclude, after having the computer compare Poe’s late-life writing through a database containing words, phrases and images that typically connote depression and the suicidal impulse, that Poe was depressed but did not take a direct hand in his death.
It’s a worthy project, but I’m skeptical for a couple of reasons. First, the database is necessarily bereft of writing samples from people who don’t write while suffering depression and from people who don’t write anything in advance of suicide. Second, I wonder if you can compare the writing of somebody like Poe, who is practiced at writing in character, to a database of anything, even if you’re using his letters and journal entries.
Not saying the study has come to a correct or incorrect solution, just that computers can’t know everything.