Long Island Compromise: A Novel

Image of Long Island Compromise: A Novel
Release Date: 
July 9, 2024
Random House
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Long Island Compromise begins with the brazen kidnapping of Jewish businessman Carl Fletcher, taken by thugs from the driveway of his upper middle-class mansion in the mundane and fictional suburb of Middle Rock, Long Island.

The author tells us Middle Rock is “most famous” for “being the first American suburb to arrive at a Jewish population of fifty percent.” Given that, there is a good chance that if the fictional residents of Middle Rock were to read one book this summer, it would  be Long Island Compromise.

The neighbors of the Fletchers can’t comprehend Carl’s abduction. “They were speechless! And yet, for all their speechlessness, none of them could stop talking about it,” writes author Taffy Brodesser-Akner who previous novel Fleishman Is in Trouble also explored the anxieties of a certain strata of upwardly mobile Jewish elites.

The writing of Brodesser-Akner reminds one of Tom Wolfe crossed with Philip Roth in the way she perfectly captures 21st century Jewish life while also skewering that lifestyle with her high-wattage and often hilarious writing style. She did it in Fleishman and she’s back for more with this novel. 

In this story, Fletcher’s kidnapping unleashes the collective anxiety of his neighbors: “the ugliest part of themselves found them whispering, late at night, across the pillow to their spouses, not where was Carl Fletcher or are we in danger, or has the world changed, but: Why not us? Why aren’t we rich enough to be kidnapped?”

But before long, Carl is dumped by the side of the road after his wife pays the $250,000 ransom demanded by the kidnappers. They inexplicably escape and, though the case is partially solved, police cannot locate the bulk of the money or the mastermind behind Fletcher’s kidnapping. (For those who like tidy endings, the identity of the kidnapper is revealed along with what happened to the money much later in the book. But no spoilers here.)

Carl goes back to his day job at the factory as though nothing has happened, at least on the surface. But the trauma of the kidnapping—the idea that life is never safe—finds a home in the psyches of the three children of Carl and Ruth Fletcher.

There are two main themes in this novel: the idea that trauma, like great wealth, is inherited, and, secondly, inherited wealth can be an albatross. The book examines that idea that, unlike wealth that is earned, the children of the rich receive handouts of unearned millions that makes them anxiety monsters. But Long Island Compromise is far from a grim story; it’s quite funny, as anxiety often is. Ask Woody Allen.

It's hard to know which of the Fletcher children—Nathan, Beamer and Jenny—is more damaged. We meet Beamer Fletcher first, a Hollywood screenwriter with one franchise movie series to his credit. He’s insecure, for good reason. It’s whispered in Hollywood that the genius of the movie franchise came from Beamer’s writing partner. And now that partner has left Beamer and is a producer/writer of a successful streaming series that Beamer believes is based on the Fletchers (hint: he’s not wrong).

Beamer is married, a husband and father and seemingly successful,l but he spends days every week getting hog-tied and tortured by a dominatrix who does unspeakable things to him. It’s a sexual kidnap fantasy come to life.  

Eventually, a drugged-out and spaced-out Beamer confronts a bewildered Mandy Patinkin at his home.

Then there is Nathan Fletcher, the oldest of the three children who, the author writes, has grown from being a little boy “into not so much a whole man but a collection of tics: a composite panic attack whose brain lived in both the unspeakable past and the terrifying future . . .”

Nathan is the only one of the Fletcher children who chooses to live and raise his brood in Middle Rock, but this safe choice turns out to be anything but. Nathan is a doormat for the world. His wife is not much better; she falls victim to a gang of crooked contractors who ruin their home. On top of that, Nathan has invested his entire fortune with a childhood friend who turns out to be an untrustworthy con artist. The ultimate indignity comes when Nathan is suspended from his job after being recorded in the middle of a bribe attempt.

And then finally there’s Jenny who was not even born when Carl was kidnapped. Jenny is the family rebel, seemingly rejecting everything Middle Rock stands for. Of course, her escape is very middle class—she runs off to Yale where she becomes a teaching assistant.

She joins the union representing other TAs and becomes a firebrand organizing against the university. She is so weighed down by her money that she tries to give it all away. When she ultimately leaves Yale and her parents’ home, she doesn’t really flee. She goes to the safety of a Manhattan townhouse that her parents bought years before. It has stayed empty, and Jenny lives there, seeing no one.

Everything comes to a head at the bat mitzvah of one of Nathan’s children. The entire family comes together to learn they are ruined financially. Their money has run out and the factory where Carl Fletcher earned his wealth is deemed a toxic dump.

It looks like the Fletchers’ last stand, but redemption comes in a series of unlikely breaks that all go the Fletchers’ way. In the book’s last pages, Carl is at the end of his life. He realizes he is dying but with his death, comes insight. The writing here is beautiful, elegant, and revelatory.