Whatever Toby Fleishman thought divorce would bring, it certainly wasn’t some kind of midlife sexual rumspringa. And yet, suddenly single at 41, he finds that modern dating apps are apparently direct portals to the female libido: a carnal Narnia stacked with women “who would not so much wait for you to call them one or two socially acceptable days after you met them as much as send you pictures of their genitals the day before.” Even his innate Toby-ness — short, beta, bespectacled — is seemingly no obstacle; in fact, it might be an aphrodisiac.
If the impetus of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s whip-smart, gleefully scatological debut is Toby’s newfound freedom, his soon-to-be ex-wife, Rachel, is the kryptonite. One hot August morning, she drops their two young children off a few hours early for their weekend custody and just… stays gone. A top Manhattan talent agent responsible for various high-powered clients and cowering underlings, she’s hardly the kind of woman to disappear from her own life. But as days of truancy turn into weeks, the Fleishman family descends into a sort of sweaty, confounded chaos — one hardly mitigated by a circuit of “rustic” summer camps, Park Avenue monoliths, and casually palatial Hamptons homes.
Brodesser-Akner, a New York Times journalist already famed for a certain kind of irreverent celebrity profile (Bradley Cooper, Gwyneth Paltrow), aims a perfect gimlet eye at the city’s relentless self-regard — the women with their aggressively botulized foreheads and tank-top spirituality, the status symbols that signal nothing and everything in their Darwinian social world. But her best trick may be the novel’s narrator: An elusive presence identified at first only as an old friend of Toby’s from their study-abroad days, she turns out to be both the book’s Trojan horse and — in a brilliant third-act pivot — its greatest gift, transforming a fizzy comedy of manners into something genuinely, unexpectedly profound. A-
Mostly Dead Things is very Florida, very gay, and very good
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Patsy are essential queer novels
Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls takes a fizzy trip to ’40s NYC