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Fleishman Is In Trouble Review

If at all possible, I like to read the book before I watch the TV or film adaptation of a project. If I see the video content first, I feel committed to imaging the characters a certain way, and books are so much more fun when you have creative license to fill in the gaps yourself. I’m especially glad that I read the book before watching the show for Fleishman Is In Trouble.

With all the reading I do, it’s rare that a book will REALLY surprise me, but Taffy Brodesser-Akner really did the trick. For the first two thirds of the book, I was fervently believing exactly what she wanted me to believe; I was liking the right characters, hating the right characters, and intrigued to see how everyone would get what they deserved.

Except then there was the tonal shift. And at first, I didn’t expect it. But as she continued to show the way perspective can change a story, it was impossible to ignore all of the ways that we create our own narrative to ensure that we are the hero of our life. This book was a kind of master-class in empathy, both the ways that it can be beautiful and the ways that it can be weaponized. More than that, it was a fascinating look at the mixed messages that we receive culturally while existing in the world, and an exploration of how devastating it can be when we finally run out of patience for fitting into the societal box that is required of us.

As a rule, I generally stay away from “Jewish” material when I’m reading for fun. I do so much reading for work on religious topics that when I read a novel, I just want to enjoy the immersive experience in a world I don’t have to critically analyze. But this is the second piece of media I’ve consumed in 2023 that plays with Jewish themes in the background as a kind of backdrop (the other was The Patient on Hulu). And it was particularly fun to get to experience popular culture that specifically uses my reference points as the basis. The Judaism in Fleishman wasn’t vital; a non-Jew would have no problem engaging with the material and getting full value out of the book. But it was interesting to experience reading something that felt like it was specifically meant for my tribe, for my way of looking at the world. It was, in a sense, the Jewish version of the importance of inclusion in story-telling. Jews are often associated with the entertainment industry, but there are still very few times when the intricacies of Jewish identity are explored in ways that are anything more than surface-level. This was, in that sense, a lovely breath of fresh air.

The book was great. But what I found myself dwelling on days later was the way that I engaged with the book, and what that taught me about my own worldview. What did it mean that I so quickly bonded with one character and so enthusiastically disdained another? What does it mean that I was able to be manipulated by the writer to ride that wave, only to trip on it as it was turned back around on me? As we engage with questions about gender roles, power structures, financial stability, and professional passion, this book is a deeply compelling look at the work we have to do to better understand one another, even when the distracting factors are so dominant in our lives.

Four and a half stars.


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