Long Island Compromise

  • Review
By – July 8, 2024

Fans of the nov­el and Hulu minis­eries Fleish­man Is in Trou­ble will find many famil­iar themes in Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s sec­ond nov­el, Long Island Com­pro­mise. In both sto­ries, a well-off Jew­ish fam­i­ly laments, aloud and in seething silence, that mon­ey doesn’t buy hap­pi­ness. In both, men and women run counter to type, with wives call­ing the shots on mon­ey and hus­bands find­ing lone­ly joy in their kids. And both nov­els fea­ture many, many scenes of anony­mous, fran­tic, and some­times humil­i­at­ing sex.

If Toby Fleish­man is in trou­ble for not appre­ci­at­ing his wife’s side of their fail­ing mar­riage, adult sib­lings Nathan, Beam­er, and Jen­ny Fletch­er are com­pro­mised because one morn­ing when they are six, four, and in utero, their father, Carl, is kid­napped from their dri­ve­way, held hostage in a dank base­ment, and returned only after their moth­er leaves $250,000 in cash on an air­port bag­gage carousel. The Fletch­ers respond as any emo­tion­al­ly stunt­ed fam­i­ly would: they tell Carl to get over it. Or, as his moth­er, Phyl­lis, instructs him repeat­ed­ly: This hap­pened to your body. This did not hap­pen to you.”

Such sep­a­ra­tion of body and soul, or the com­part­men­tal­iza­tion of the self, is a ten­sion that besets three gen­er­a­tions of Fletch­ers. Zelig, Carl’s father, escaped the Nazis of Poland to found a pros­per­ous Sty­ro­foam fac­to­ry in Queens, but he car­ries con­flict­ing ver­sions of the sto­ry that enabled his suc­cess. Ruth, Carl’s wife, trades emo­tion­al hon­esty for finan­cial secu­ri­ty, but finds her­self squeezed between her dom­i­neer­ing moth­er-in-law, Phyl­lis, and her grit­less chil­dren. These chil­dren — Nathan, Beam­er and Jen­ny — chase the kind of sat­is­fac­tion they could nev­er give their par­ents: they var­i­ous­ly attempt pru­dence and promis­cu­ity, drugs and defi­ance, and cre­ativ­i­ty and charity.

The Fletch­ers’ tra­vails are punc­tu­at­ed by Brodesser-Akner’s wry wit. There’s the friend whose last name becomes Messinger-Schlesinger; there’s the rehab facil­i­ty whose restau­rant has a Miche­lin star; and there’s Beamer’s inabil­i­ty to write a Hol­ly­wood script that doesn’t fea­ture a kidnapping. 

Mid­way through the nov­el, the nar­ra­tor (who, just like in Fleish­man, turns out to be a friend of the fam­i­ly) remarks that All fam­i­lies are a Bible sto­ry unto them­selves.” Which begs the ques­tion: which Bible sto­ry are the Fletch­ers? Do they sym­bol­ize the intractable inter­gen­er­a­tional trau­ma of Isaac and Ish­mael? The tox­ic sib­ling angst of Joseph and his brothers? 

One might argue that the Fletch­ers’ Bible-sized sin lies in for­get­ting what Jews know best: that when there is tragedy and trau­ma, we must talk about it. Exam­ine the injus­tice in great detail; pick apart the suf­fer­ing; retell it from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Don’t shut it down, hid­ing behind a stiff upper lip and stony denial. Because such com­part­men­tal­iza­tion com­pro­mis­es the kids.

E. Kin­ney Zalesne, a for­mer Microsoft exec­u­tive, is a strat­e­gy con­sul­tant in Wash­ing­ton, DC. She serves on the board of the Nation­al Library of Israel’s Amer­i­can affil­i­ate, NLI USA; and was the col­lab­o­ra­tor on the best­selling book, Microtrends: The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow’s Big Changes (Twelve, 2007).

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