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Taffy Brodesser-Akner Reflects on Life Post-Fleishman

Taffy Brodesser-Akner Reflects on Life Post-Fleishman
Taffy Brodesser-Akner. Photograph: Lol Johnson

How do you follow a novel like Fleishman Is in Trouble? Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the author, admits that if she knew exactly what made her debut so beloved, she would replicate it. The story follows a newly divorced hepatologist discovering the world of dating apps while managing his two kids after his ex-wife disappears. The book was both smart and hilarious, and its TV adaptation drew in a star-studded cast, with Brodesser-Akner writing the screenplay. However, the process of penning her second novel almost drove her “insane.”

Long Island Compromise is Brodesser-Akner’s new work, described as a Jewish twist on Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. It’s a sweeping family saga about the American Dream and money, tracing three generations of the Fletcher family as they gain and lose their fortune. A TV adaptation is already in the works. Brodesser-Akner confesses that writing each sentence in this book was a struggle.

Before Fleishman, she was already a renowned profile writer for the New York Times, known for her high-profile celebrity interviews, including Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj. She brings a deep understanding of human absurdity and vanity to her journalism, making her profiles and novels uniquely engaging.

In 2018, she interviewed Franzen in Santa Cruz, genuinely impressed by his writing style. She finished the final pages of Fleishman that evening in her hotel room. She believes that bad profiles stem from writers getting too close to their subjects, which is a shame because readers might mistake closeness for friendship.

During our conversation outside a converted railway station restaurant in King’s Cross, Brodesser-Akner, dressed in black and sporting DM-style boots, revealed her thoughts on motherhood and writing. Fleishman turns out to be as much about motherhood’s loneliness and frustrations as it is about its titular character. She recalls how tough early motherhood was, yet now finds joy in her teenagers.

She wrote the first 70 pages of Long Island Compromise before starting Fleishman. Inspired by the kidnapping of a wealthy Jewish businessman in Long Island in 1974, she set it aside when her then-agent showed little interest. One rejected feature idea eventually turned into Fleishman, leading Brodesser-Akner to a new agent who appreciated both works.

Brodesser-Akner’s novels often stem from personal and societal anxieties. Fleishman was partly a reaction to Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid, while Long Island Compromise, completed amid rising global tensions, tackles the evolving state of wealth and privilege.

The novel delves into wealth and fear. The Fletchers, who built their fortune on polystyrene, represent the fragility of the American Dream. The story, based on Jack Teich’s real-life kidnapping, explores a trauma unique to American soil and questions the permanence of safety and prosperity.

Set 40 years after the kidnapping, the novel introduces Carl’s three adult children, tackling their neuroses and ambitions. Despite their wealth, they face personal crises and latent unhappiness, highlighting the idea that money isn’t everything.

Brodesser-Akner tackles taboo topics like money with finesse. She notes that people rarely understand what constitutes sufficient or excessive wealth, leading to a perpetual sense of inadequacy.

In her profiles, she often asks subjects to describe their childhood bedrooms, a technique that yields deep, reflective answers. Despite her wealthy roots, her own childhood oscillated between affluence and modesty, her formative years marked by questions of financial stability.

Literature greatly influenced her. Her mother, having embraced Orthodox Judaism later in life, restricted teen fiction, prompting young Taffy to turn to Philip Roth’s novels. They taught her to appreciate bold stories liberated from shame, shaping her writing aspirations.

Despite her unconventional religious upbringing, Brodesser-Akner resists rigid religious labels. Her husband converted to Judaism, and her sons attend Jewish schools, creating a nuanced relationship with faith.

She approaches writing pragmatically, driven by financial obligations rather than mystical inspiration. Yet, she amusingly recounts an encounter with a psychic, which unblocked her creativity for a crucial section of her novel.

Her discipline allows her to spend hours at her desk, likening herself to Sisyphus—a comparison she twists into a positive. Relieved to have completed her second novel, she’s already working on two more.

Though she cherishes her fiction writing, Brodesser-Akner remains dedicated to her profile writing job at the New York Times, finding it immensely rewarding. Ultimately, her work, whether in journalism or fiction, always prioritizes the reader’s experience.

Long Island Compromise is published by Wildfire.

Source: The Guardian