I finished reading Fleishman Is in Trouble tonight. Here’s the brilliant thing (or, rather, one of the many brilliant things) about it: It explores what happens when women relinquish their tact and their sanity and their social graces and allow themselves to become completely unhinged — or, at least, what looks like unhinged from the perspective of a culture that does not register or empathize with the daily minimization and trauma of existing as a woman in the world.
Rachel Fleishman is a high-powered entrepreneurial wife and mother who lives out the private everywoman fantasy of giving up, of deciding that you will suddenly and deliberately stop striving to be everything at once. “So disappear. The kids wouldn’t even notice if you were gone,” her soon-to-be-ex-husband Toby tells her.
For once, she lets herself feel everything, and in the depths of her feeling, she disappears. And what do you know? The world stops turning. All of her unseen labor mattered after all.
He presses on, determined to start over without her. After all, to him, she’s only a crazy woman who left her family behind. And so angry. Case closed. For him, that is the beginning and the end of her story. The divorce story he tells is the story of her failure. The divorce story she tells is the story of her failure, too, and of her pain, and of their mutually assured destruction, and of her acceptance and pain and power. Her empathy is such a force that it isn’t until age 41 that she finally realizes she’s never been loved — really loved — in her life.
Fleishman Is in Trouble is resonant and affecting for one of the same reasons that I love the horror movie genre. It is interested in saying this: “The world fears monsters, but it also fears crazy women, which is to say angry women, which is to say women who will not graciously abide injustice. What if you stopped keeping up appearances? What if you let yourself lose your mind? What if you found your clarity in your insanity? Could you be more than you ever imagined?”