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What’s it all about, Toby Fleishman?

 

Who wouldn’t want to be married to Dr. Toby Fleishman? He’s a successful hepatologist (liver specialist) whose only shortcoming is . . . well . . . he’s short (5 feet 5 inches to be precise). The answer is . . . his wife Rachel, who had such a problem being married to him, she went off the deep end and walked out. Apparently, being married to a successful doctor who doesn’t cheat and loves his children isn’t enough for Rachel. In Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s new (and first) novel Fleishman Is In Trouble, the author explores the state of modern marriage in a can’t-put-it-down story of expectations, rewards, and disappointments.

Marriage is a complicated business and the author mines its ups and downs through the eyes of three main characters, Toby Fleishman, his wife Rachel, and Toby’s long-time friend from their working-in-Israel days, Libby Epstein. A fourth character, Seth, plays a minor role counter-balancing Toby, Rachel and Libby’s marital machinations. Most of the plot takes place over the course of one summer in New York City when life turns upside down for Toby Fleishman. He’s newly separated from Rachel after fifteen years of marriage that produced two children. Toby has moved from their fancy uptown condo to a worn-down apartment with poor amenities and non-functioning air-conditioning. The only bright spot in his life is his seemingly endless opportunities for sex as a result of joining an online dating site. Even though Rachel may no longer want him, there are many single and divorced women who can’t seem to get enough of his charms. His sex life has never been so abundant or so varied, and his height is no obstacle. He’s enjoying an absolute smorgasbord of sexual adventures.

Early one morning, Rachel drops the kids off at Toby’s apartment ahead of the planned time in their carefully arranged schedule, then she disappears. For weeks. Toby cannot reach her through her phone, at her apartment, or at her job where she owns and runs a very profitable and high-profile talent agency. In a classic example of role reversal, Toby is now faced with all the problems that come with being a single parent, reassuring his 8-year-old son, Solly that his mother is still alive and loves him, while managing the temperamental moods and demands of his 12-year-old daughter, Hannah. Toby struggles with juggling day-camp, sleep-away camp, tween angst, and temper tantrums while trying to coordinate feeding his kids, organizing sitters and still trying to keep himself upwardly mobile at the hospital where he works.

The departure of Toby’s wife Rachel leaves him even more bitter and angry than he was before the separation when they were fighting constantly. The story is told through the voice of Toby’s friend Libby Epstein who has her own personal check-list of disappointments and insecurities. Libby was a writer for a men’s magazine, and also married with children. I found this first-person narrative by Libby to be a bit confusing at times when the author jumps between describing Toby’s situation in the third person, then switches to her own voice.

The reader is consumed with sympathy for Toby. His wife Rachel is a bitch. She’s a social climber, neglectful of their children, overly ambitious, self-centred and her constant anger makes her hard to be around. The author writes in a compelling voice for Toby. But, as we all know, there are always two sides to every story. The tone, the vocabulary and the emotional struggles while masculine are relatable, however, this is a strongly feminist novel. Despite my sympathies for Toby, I found myself thinking, “Now you know what most women are up against, particularly single mothers”. Brodesser-Akner is a master manipulator of the reader’s emotions while sneaking her feminist message into the plot in a very impactful manner.

Brodesser-Akner’s writing is a compelling and intelligent voice for feminism.

As a counter-point to all the complications surrounding marriage, Toby and Libby’s friend Seth has remained steadfastly single, living a hedonistic lifestyle. He runs through women like they’re a disposable commodity, which in the context of his life, they are. Love and marriage are examined from all sides. There are plenty of philosophical questions, “Are you supposed to want to get married? Or are you just supposed to marry the person you’re into when you decide it’s time to get married?” The reader is left to draw her own conclusions. In his quest for a wife, Toby’s only requirement was that she wouldn’t be crazy. That’s a pretty low bar and he married far above his criteria. So how did it go so far off the rails?

There’s so much more to say about this book but the bottom line is I couldn’t put it down. It’s hard-hitting, intelligently written, a bit raunchy and clearly deserving of being on The New York Times bestselling list, where it currently now ranks. I can see it being a book club favourite and a topic of discussion for feminists and traditionalists alike. I’d rate Fleishman Is In Trouble by first-time author Taffy Brodesser-Akner as 9 out of 10. I’m pretty sure you too won’t be able to put it down and I look forward to more novels by this talented writer.

 

To order a copy of FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE

from Amazon, click here.

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2019 Super Bowl vindicates this non-fan of football

Let me be absolutely clear right up front; I have zero interest in and no knowledge or understanding of football. In my opinion it’s a violent, concussion-inducing game right up there with cage fighting. Any time I’ve tried to watch a game I’m bored to tears within four minutes watching overpaid fat guys run a few yards and fall down, or more often, get knocked down—then, get up, only to run and fall down again. I can think of four hundred things I’d rather be doing with my time than watching such masochism.

My husband has the polar opposite attitude toward football. He loves it and in an ideal world he would watch it on television non-stop all day every day. He’s been known to get up in the middle of the night when he can’t sleep and watch a prerecorded college game. He even prefers to watch the Super Bowl alone on his own TV with no distractions so he can concentrate and focus totally on the plays. So you see we’re not on the same team when it comes to football. I have no objection to him watching football until his eyeballs fall out as long as he wears his headphones and doesn’t try to involve me.

This year’s Super Bowl on Sunday was a turning point however. He made a tactical error that I plan to capitalize on for the rest of his life. After the third quarter of the big multi-bazillion-dollar game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots, he emerged from his man-cave and declared that it was the most boring football game he’d ever seen. “There was no offense; just defense and at the end of the third quarter the score is only 3/3.” I guess there was no blood and guts, no questionable calls, no brilliant plays and in general, no excitement. He complained that even the much-anticipated commercials were boring. I’m sure the companies that invested $5.2 million for their 30-second slot would be thrilled to hear that. Things picked up only slightly at the end of the fourth quarter and as we all know the Patriots won—again! Yawn.

The only conclusion I can draw from this experience is that I was right all along. I was better off watching Masterpiece Theatre where the blood is fake and the suspense is guaranteed. It’s my intention to milk this vindication of my attitude toward football until our ashes are resting side by side on a quiet hilltop far from big-screen televisions. I knew all along I was right; it just took the 2019 Super Bowl to prove it.

 

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Fannie Flagg is more than Fried Green Tomatoes

Most boomer gals loved the movie Fried Green Tomatoes. In fact, many of us have watched it several times since its original release in theatres in 1991 (Yikes—nearly thirty years ago!). With stars that included Dolly Parton, Julia Roberts, Sally Field and the wonderful Kathy Bates, the movie was a screen adaptation of an original book by Fannie Flagg. It was based on a real-life railroad whistle stop restaurant owned by her late aunt. Until a couple of weeks ago I didn’t realize Ms. Flagg had written several other books and when I downloaded The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion I was delighted to find another author worth reading.

The story begins with the main character, modern-day Sarah Poole, a.k.a. Sookie, a typical southern homemaker as she marries off the last of her three daughters. Interestingly, as I was reading this book, I could so easily picture Kathy Bates playing this character in a movie version. When she shockingly learns at the age of sixty that she was adopted as a baby by her eccentric, domineering southern mother, her entire world pivots off its axis. She’s no longer the custodian of her southern heritage and is somewhat appalled that her birth mother was of Polish stock, not a Daughter of the American Revolution.

Women’s war work extended far beyond knitting socks. WASPs were a vital but low profile part of the war effort.

Set mainly in Alabama, Wisconsin and California, the story is a fictional account of real women who were heroes on the homefront during World War II and their descendents. The Jurdabralinksi family lived in a community of Polish immigrants who settled in Pulaski, Wisconsin early in the twentieth century. They capitalized on the economic growth of automobiles by opening a filling station to support the family. When the family’s only son, Wink, left to go overseas at the start of the Second World War, the four daughters in the family took over the filling station and even managed to increase business during difficult times of gas rationing. The oldest sister, Fritzie, who is a bit of non-conformist rebel befriends a civilian stunt pilot who hires her as his wing walker. She soon learns to fly the plane and becomes an accomplished aviator who eventually also  teaches her younger sisters how to fly. This is the family that Sookie learns she was born into. We learn about the circumstances of Sookie’s birth to one of the amazing Jurdabralinski sisters and what happened to her birth mother.

Each of the four sisters became part of the WASPs, an unacknowledged female branch of the military charged with transporting airplanes from the manufacturing plant to and between military bases in the southern United States during the war when women weren’t allowed to join active duty. These highly skilled women were not recognized at the time for their heroic work. When Sookie learns this is the stock from which she descended, she’s considerably assuaged and decides to try and arrange a meeting with her birth mother. The story straddles two time periods, World War II and the present, and the dialogue is representative of each period in time. It’s educational, poignant and at times humourous. I really enjoyed it and rate it 8 out of 10.

To order The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion from Amazon, click here.

 

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What’s up in men’s underwear?

Have you taken a close look at men’s underwear lately, other than what turns up in your weekly laundry? I had occasion to peruse the men’s lingerie section of a major department store the other day and I can’t tell you how much fun it was. The names the marketing people come up with to describe men’s skivvies are just too hilarious. They surely deserve a Nobel Prize for creative fiction. The brand names are all riffs on size, power and even calibre! Check these out:

  • Magnum
  • Big Eagle
  • Champion
  • Colt
  • Performance
  • Prodige
  • Hero
  • Urban Touch (seriously??)

What I didn’t see was:

  • Crop-duster
  • Skidmark
  • Babyface
  • Rust belt

I don’t think I’ve ever seen women’s underwear with similarly ambitious names. Our frillies are usually just called “Thong, Bikini, Hi-rise leg” or a similar fairly obvious description. Maybe there’s an opportunity here for creative marketers to jump on the bandwagon with new names for women’s underwear:

There could be a considerable difference between what’s advertised and what’s in the package.

  • Stud buster
  • Steel magnolia
  • You wish
  • Secret treasure
  • In your dreams

Men’s underwear names are ego-enhancing and denote power, which I am pretty sure is not always reflective of the contents or the wearer. But then, most women know men’s egos need constant stroking! Baby boomer women were raised to be good listeners. As soon as we started dating we were coached to ask our dates about themselves, and they were only too happy to oblige—for hours and hours and hours. We’ve already proven our staying power.

I know it’s always risky to generalize but when I read about dates-gone-bad in the agony columns in local newspapers, the challenges never change. Even enlightened millennials are forced to suffer through painful first dates with guys who are so self-absorbed it never occurs to them that we might have something of value to say as well. “All he did was talk about himself; his work, his car; his sports” is a common complaint from women in the dating market. And they wonder why they’re ghosted.

Some things never change, including what’s up in men’s underwear. Until attitudes change and women start insisting upon proof in advertising, we’ll just have to double check for inferior goods and not fall for false claims. If they aren’t willing and happy to meet us on equal ground and recognize that we’re also worthy of such labels as Heroine, Boss Lady or Conqueror, then just leave ’em on the shelf for some other less discriminating poor soul. Thank heavens we were born women and don’t have to suffer the stress of constantly stroking our ego, through our underwear.

Deb from Milton thinks it rocks!

To order a copy of my new book BOOMER BEAT from Amazon, click here.

 

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Anna Porter’s memoir is a gift to Canadian readers

If you’re a lover of Canadian literature, then you’re in for a treat. Anna Porter, author of In Other Words, How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time, is an author and former publisher extraordinaire with a pedigree spanning decades in the book business. I first became aware of her in the early seventies when she was profiled in Canadian magazines and newspapers as someone to keep an eye on. As a baby boomer and working mother of two young girls Anna Porter moved in the exalted circles of the rich and powerful—someone we followed in hopes we could learn from her success.

Born in Hungary, Anna Szigethy escaped during the revolution with her mother (separated from her father, a survivor of the Russian gulag) to Austria where they then emigrated to New Zealand as refugees. As soon as she finished university, she left for London, England, mecca for young baby boomer women looking to begin exciting new lives. Her fluency in several languages and appreciation for literature landed her an entry-level job in publishing. When Anna Szigethy arrived in Canada from the U.K. in the late sixties in her mauve mini-dress and white vinyl boots, she’d already chalked up experience working with Collier Macmillan International’s UK office.

When she joined McClelland and Stewart, the company was already experiencing serious financial problems. Working long hours for little pay under irascible patriarch Jack McClelland, she helped grow the company and despite their stable of famous Canadian authors, M&S was constantly on the brink of bankruptcy. When she married high-profile Toronto lawyer Julien Porter, her struggles with balancing a career and young family will ring familiar to any boomer woman trying to do the same thing in the 70s and 80s. There’s no magic solution. It’s hard work, both at home and on the job.

Authors like Margaret Atwood, Peter C. Newman, Margaret Laurence, Farley Mowat, Marian Engel, Conrad Black and Pierre Berton were regulars in the offices of Anna Porter as she juggled not just the publishing of their new books but their fragile egos and creative personalities. The famous names are too numerous to list here. As an early feminist, she challenged the old boys’ network and supported women writers like Doris Anderson, Naomi Wolf and Sylvia Fraser.

Author/publisher, Anna Porter.

In Other Words is a literal “who’s who” of Canadian literature. It’s beautifully and informatively written by a publishing giant who witnessed and was part of an amazing period in publishing. By the time she launched her own business, Key Porter Books, McClelland and Stewart was going down for the third time and is now owned by Random House Canada, a division of German media giant Bertelsmann.

On a personal note, M&S’s financial woes made me feel guilty about not returning half a dozen hardcover books they gave me once on approval. I clearly remember sitting in the grim, dark offices of M&S on Hollinger Road in Scarborough one day in the 1970s when I went there to research a suitable corporate Christmas gift. We ordered several dozen copies of Peter C. Newman’s The Canadian Establishment but I really should have returned the books we didn’t order. I now feel guilty, although I know my keeping those books would not have meant the difference between financial salvation for M&S and their ultimate demise.

I can’t recommend this book enough—perhaps it’s because I’m a book lover, a feminist and a fan of Canadian literature. Anna Porter’s In Other Words is a must-read. I give it 9.5 out of 10. I absolutely loved every single page.

To order In Other Words by Anna Porter from Amazon, click here.

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Just don’t ask me to bring hors d’oeuvres

Only if I can pick up a ready-made platter at Costco.

You’re having a pot luck? Great. What can I bring? Dessert? Salad? Veg? NOOOOO! Not an hors d’oeuvre! That’s the one thing I hate to do most in the world—right up there with washing the inside of my kitchen cupboards. Even worse, because it requires planning, specialty shopping, fiddling and figuring out how to keep everything fresh/crisp/moist/whatever. And my creations are never as fresh/crisp/moist or as visually appealing as what everyone else in the world can do so much better. It’s like the time my coworker tore apart and rewrapped all our corporate Christmas gifts for clients because she was appalled at what a sloppy job I’d done. I must say, her exquisitely mitred foil end flaps and creative flair with ribbons was far better than my version which was more like preschoolers playing with paper and scissors. I’m just not engineered to do fiddley.

My idea of artful hors d’oeuvres never looks anything like the symmetrically arranged shrimp atop iced butter lettuce in a seashell glass dish that I’ve enjoyed at friends’ houses. My presentations are more like I went dumpster diving, found some salvageable scraps and arranged them on a platter. Some people even brave the world of hot finger foods and present what appears to be the main course entrée on delicate china plates. Have you ever had those gems of nouvelle cuisine served in individual serving-size Chinese porcelain spoons or in colourful martini glasses with themed toothpicks? They seem far too pretty to eat. Don’t expect anything like that at my house. I’ve been known throw a handful of little bags of leftover Halloween potato chips on the coffee table when unexpected guests drop in for a glass of wine.

And for this food that Lynda has prepared, we are truly thankful!

My biggest objection to this whole hors d’oeuvre business is that it takes the edge off your appetite for dinner. When I’ve spent the better part of an entire day on my feet in the kitchen chopping, ladling, stirring and otherwise slaving over a meal for my guests, I want everyone to come to the table faint from hunger. Then, whether my meal presentation is a success or not, no one will know the difference. They’ll be so starved and desperate for food they can barely sit up, so whatever I serve will be a triumph. “Oh Lynda, this meal is amazing; YOU are amazing!”

When you come to my house, enjoy those Tostitos  and the bowl of Kirkland cashews on your dainty paper cocktail napkin because that’s all you’re getting beforehand. It’s called smart meal planning. And if you have a pot luck and ask me to bring an hors d’oeuvre, I hope you like Halloween potato chips. You can always count on me to do my share.

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