Taffy Brodesser-Akner: ‘People really love how messy the truth is’

The journalist turned novelist on exorcising her fear of divorce, the state of gender relations, and reading Philip Roth at 11

Taffy Brodesser-Akner is an award-winning American journalist who made her name writing profiles for magazines such as GQ and ESPN. In 2017, she was hired by the New York Times, where her work has included an encounter with Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire that went viral. Fleishman Is in Trouble, her first novel, tells the story of divorcees Toby and Rachel Fleishman, respectively a doctor newly immersed in the world of app-based dating and a theatre agent managing her unstinting ambition. Novelist Elizabeth Gilbert describes it as: “Just the sort of thing that Philip Roth or John Updike might have produced in their prime (except, of course, that the author understands women).”

How did you find building characters from scratch? Had you collected scraps from interviewees?
It was really hard, because I’m good at observing. To create someone in order to observe them is a really big game of imagination, and I don’t usually ever have to rely on my imagination. But once I had a character in mind, it was easy for me to say, “What would he do now?” because I believe most people operate from the same impulses. [I didn’t collect] from interviewees but friends. When I turned 40, my friends started getting divorced. I wanted to understand it better because I had so much anxiety about divorce – from the minute I agreed to marry my husband, I have been in an obsessive defence against our marriage ending.

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