Long Island Compromise: A Novel

Long Island Compromise: A Novel

by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
Long Island Compromise: A Novel

Long Island Compromise: A Novel

by Taffy Brodesser-Akner


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Notes From Your Bookseller

We couldn't put this one down, and we have a feeling you won't be able to, either. A story about the benefits and consequences of wealth and the lengths we'll go to run from our personal mythologies — this cast of characters will hold you for ransom until the very end.

An exhilarating novel about one American family, the dark moment that shatters their suburban paradise, and the wild legacy of trauma and inheritance, from the New York Times bestselling author of Fleishman Is in Trouble

“A big, juicy, wickedly funny social satire . . . probably the funniest book ever about generational family trauma.”—Oprah Daily

“Were we gangsters? No. But did we know how to start a fire?”

In 1980, a wealthy businessman named Carl Fletcher is kidnapped from his driveway, brutalized, and held for ransom. He is returned to his wife and kids less than a week later, only slightly the worse, and the family moves on with their lives, resuming their prized places in the saga of the American dream, comforted in the realization that though their money may have been what endangered them, it is also what assured them their safety.

But now, nearly forty years later, it’s clear that perhaps nobody ever got over anything, after all. Carl has spent the ensuing years secretly seeking closure to the matter of his kidnapping, while his wife, Ruth, has spent her potential protecting her husband’s emotional health. Their three grown children aren’t doing much better: Nathan’s chronic fear won’t allow him to advance at his law firm; Beamer, a Hollywood screenwriter, will consume anything—substance, foodstuff, women—in order to numb his own perpetual terror; and Jenny has spent her life so bent on proving that she’s not a product of her family’s pathology that she has come to define it. As they hover at the delicate precipice of a different kind of survival, they learn that the family fortune has dwindled to just about nothing, and they must face desperate questions about how much their wealth has played a part in both their lives’ successes and failures.

Long Island Compromise spans the entirety of one family’s history, winding through decades and generations, all the way to the outrageous present, and confronting the mainstays of American Jewish life: tradition, the pursuit of success, the terror of history, fear of the future, old wives’ tales, evil eyes, ambition, achievement, boredom, dybbuks, inheritance, pyramid schemes, right-wing capitalists, beta-blockers, psychics, and the mostly unspoken love and shared experience that unite a family forever.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593133491
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/09/2024
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 146
Product dimensions: 9.40(w) x 6.40(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Taffy Brodesser-Akner is a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine and the New York Times bestselling author of Fleishman Is in Trouble, which has been translated into more than a dozen languages. She is also the creator and executive producer of its Emmy-nominated limited series adaptation for FX. Long Island Compromise is her second novel.

Read an Excerpt

A Dybbuk in the Works

Do you want to hear a story with a terrible ending?

On Wednesday, March 12, 1980, Carl Fletcher, one of the richest men in the Long Island suburb where we grew up, was kidnapped from his driveway on his way to work.

It had been an unremarkable morning. Carl had awoken and showered and dressed and gone downstairs to kiss his wife, Ruth, goodbye, same as always. Ruth had already presented their two sons, Nathan and Bernard, with their bowls of Product 19 when Carl patted them on the head and left the kitchen and headed out the door into the bright sunlight. The weather was still generally straightforward back then, and spring peeked through the slush of a latest-winter storm that was taking its time to melt. The reflection blinded him a little; his vision was still pocked with dark spots when he inserted the keys into the door of the Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham he’d purchased the previous year.

His brain hadn’t yet registered the sound of someone else’s footsteps through the slush before a man leapt from behind onto Carl’s back and hooded him in one fast, balletic move, turning Carl’s world instantly to black. Inside the hood were the amplified sounds of Carl’s own suddenly fast breathing and grunting. Someone else—there were two men—pulled the keys from the lock and settled himself into the driver’s seat while the first man struggled with Carl. Now, Carl was a tall man. The two men seemed significantly smaller. It was only the shock of the attack that allowed them to successfully wrest Carl into the footwell of his car.

The Brougham drove away, down and out the C-shaped driveway, away from the giant waterfront Tudor on St. James Drive where the Fletchers lived. It drove through the township of Middle Rock, making a right onto Ocean Vista Road, passing the Fletchers’ neighbors’ own colossal homes, then over the bridge, then gliding right by, at the 1.8-mile mark, the sixteen-acre estate where Carl had grown up and where his mother was sitting at a Queen Anne desk right at that very moment, writing checks to the electric company and to the synagogue. Then, past the library, past the butcher, past Duplo’s Ski and Skate Shop, where Carl’s mother had bought him roller skates as a child and where he himself had just recently bought a first tennis racquet for his older son; past the turnoff to the synagogue where Carl had been bar mitzvahed; past the reception hall where he’d gotten married; past the two-block ghetto of auto repair shops, making a right turn onto Shore Turnpike and out of Middle Rock, which, until that moment, was most famous for being the setting of a famous novel from the 1920s (and its author’s residence there) and, since, for being the first American suburb to arrive at a Jewish population of fifty percent.

The kidnappers drove for about an hour until they stopped, pulled Carl out of the footwell, and dragged him up a few steps, into somewhere cavernous (the echo of the footsteps told Carl the place was cavernous), then dragged him down two flights of what felt like the same kind of serrated steel-tread stairs they had at the factory that Carl owned, Consolidated Packing Solutions, Ltd. From the steps he was pushed into a small space that he surmised was a closet. The dark became darkest. The Brougham was never found.

Carl was not suspected to be missing until around three o’clock that afternoon. An hour before that, Ruth had looked at the clock and realized that it was time to pick up Nathan from school. She was in the early stages of her third pregnancy and her morning sickness hadn’t abated by the afternoon and she was concerned it wasn’t actually morning sickness but a virus that had sent her to the couch that morning and kept her there for most of the afternoon, letting Bernard, who was four, watch three reruns of Gilligan’s Island in a row. She considered calling her friend Linda Messinger and asking her to pick Nathan up, but she’d already asked Linda to take him to school in the morning in the first place with her own six-year-old, Jared. Linda did not yet know that Ruth was pregnant, and so Ruth didn’t want to ask her—a two-way favor would have sold Ruth and her condition out, and Ruth didn’t want anyone to know this early, not even Linda Messinger, who she wasn’t always so sure was rooting for her. She instead called her mother-in-law, Phyllis. Phyllis was a widow with a driver and lived just up the road, a spry fifty-five or fifty (she had destroyed all records of her birth when she turned thirty-six or thirty-one—nobody knew for sure).

While Ruth waited for Nathan, she called the factory to ask Carl if he could pick up eggs and spaghetti on his way home. Carl’s secretary, Hannah Zolinski, answered the phone and made noises of delay and then confusion and then finally told Ruth that Carl had never made it into the office that day. Hannah had assumed he was taking a day off. She’d been surprised, she told Ruth, since there was a purchase order that needed fulfilling for the Albertson’s account, and Carl had expressed concern the day before that the drafting department was lagging on the order. This would put the factory behind schedule by days or weeks. Hannah hadn’t called him at home because, she told Ruth, there was no need to; the drafting department had delivered and everything was running smoothly for Albertson. (Secretly, Hannah was worried that Carl had told her he was taking the day off and she hadn’t remembered, which would make Carl angry. Hannah had recently become engaged to a man from the factory’s engineering department and had already been berated by Carl for her distraction several times in the prior two weeks. Carl, Hannah knew, took pride in a distinct form of management: running “a tight ship,” which mostly meant walking around with the baseline assumption that everyone was stealing from him constantly—sometimes in the form of money, but especially in the form of time. This was a lesson passed to him by his own father, who had founded and run the factory all the way up to his death, and this was why Carl rarely took time off, much less spontaneous time, and also why Hannah later told the police that she felt she would have remembered it if Carl had told her he was taking the day.)

Ruth hung up the phone, her finger to her mouth. She stood for a long minute, the phone going dead, then silent, then the dial tone, then the obscene, too-loud clamor of a 1980s kitchen phone off the hook. Her mother-in-law walked in and looked from Ruth to the phone and then back to Ruth.

“What is wrong with you?” Phyllis asked.

Within twenty minutes, the local police arrived. Within an hour, Ruth’s mother, Lipshe, entered. Within twenty-four hours, the FBI was setting up camp at Carl and Ruth’s home: five full-time agents (two of whom were named John), one of them a woman (Leslie), around the clock, sleeping in the guest rooms and the kids’ rooms and the living room. There were three members of the Middle Rock Police Department assigned to the house, but they were mostly useless. Owing to its wealth and relative distance from anything that resembled a working-class neighborhood, Middle Rock was a preternaturally safe place in the 1980s, and the police there had no experience dealing with something as strange and theoretically violent as a suddenly missing person.

Ruth showed the agents recent pictures of Carl from their nephew’s bar mitzvah and gave a description: six foot three, meaty but not fat, a prolific head of beautiful brown hair that defied logic—at thirty-three, a mere one on the Hamilton-Norwood baldness scale, same as when she met him—brown eyes that always looked like they were in a squint but were nonetheless kind, and a nose whose apex pointed downward so that he almost always looked like he was slightly repulsed by the thing he was looking at. Ruth’s eyes stopped on a picture of the two of them dancing, her looking over her shoulder, perhaps her name being called by someone or just the photographer who took the picture. “This is us dancing,” she said. The agents nodded thoughtfully and wrote in their notepads.

And they asked questions: Was anyone angry at him? Did anyone have reason to threaten him? Did he ever talk about enemies, or even something more innocuous, like a random person who hated him? Was there—just hear us out—was there possibly another woman?

“You keep mentioning this Hannah Zolinski,” one of the Johns said, checking his notes.

“She’s his secretary,” Ruth said, exasperated. She did not like feeling accused; she did not like that in addition to managing the stress of this absurd situation, she had to also clear her husband’s reputation when it seemed very clear to nearly everyone that he was a victim of something. “If you knew how he gets frustrated with her,” she tried. Then, quickly, as if this might vindicate him in his absence: “She’s engaged! Hannah is recently engaged! To a Socialist!”

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