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The Real Mrs. Tobias


The Real Mrs. Tobias

A sharply funny multigenerational story, Sally Koslow’s THE REAL MRS. TOBIAS is an ode to wives, mothers-in-laws and the sense of humor that allows the two to coexist.

Ten days ago, Micah Tobias was involved in a hit-and-run accident. Coming home after a few too many beers and unsure of his route, Micah hit something. Probably a raccoon. Or a really big dog. Or…a person? When Micah confesses the truth about his accident (and his uncertainty) to his wife Birdie, his mother Mel, and his domineering grandmother Veronika, the three Mrs. Tobiases must put aside their personal differences to figure out how to save him…and themselves.

"This is an astute, authentic novel, but also one that will have you laughing out loud with sympathy, mirth and glee.... Koslow wastes no chance to reveal some universal truth, usually delivered on an heirloom platter of wit."

Leading the group is austere, always perfectly put-together Veronika, an esteemed psychotherapist who continues to treat New York City as her oyster, even in her 70s. She and her husband, David, host the weekly Shabbos dinners (on expensive, untarnished china, of course), call cars when their children and grandchildren need them, and generally run the Tobias family --- from the family business haberdashery to the social dynamics and emotional flows. Next in line is Mel, the wife of Veronika’s son, Jake. As a fellow psychotherapist (but one with fewer degrees than her mother-in-law), Mel deals in the neuroses, fears and disappointments of the common man and woman, and is considered only a degree above a social worker by her disapproving mother-in-law. Rounding out the trio is Birdie, Micah's young Midwestern wife who fled her family’s no-nonsense farm as soon as possible, but now feels like a fish out of water in fast-moving, trend-setting New York.

While the three women are united by name and familial connections, the real touchstone for them is Micah’s daughter --- Mel’s granddaughter and Veronika’s great-granddaughter --- Alice. Whatever Micah has done and whatever the consequences, Veronika and Mel refuse to see Alice separated from the family, regardless of whether or not Micah and Birdie are a good match. But as the repercussions of Micah’s hit-and-run reverberate through their already rocky marriage, Birdie flees for Iowa, leaving the other Tobias women to bring order to their house.

Unfortunately, Micah’s potential crime is not the only dysfunction plaguing the family. Veronika’s age is catching up to her --- and, more obviously, her deteriorating husband --- and she is worried about continuing her lifestyle of glamour and intellect. Mel, perhaps the most relatable character here, is haunted by the memory of an affair, but is equally put off by her husband’s idolization of his mother and inability to stand up for himself or for her. Her frustration and horror at Micah’s lapse in judgment have put her own mothering skills into question; unable to live up to her mother-in-law’s expectations, she cannot help but question herself too. And Birdie, seeing the writing on the wall in the relationship between her grandmother-in-law and mother-in-law, wants no part of their twisted dynamic, yet she admires their tenacity and devotion to their family. (But a little goes a long way, you know?)

The mystery of Micah’s potential crime and the dynamics of the Mrs. Tobiases propel the narrative, but what makes THE REAL MRS. TOBIAS utterly unputdownable is Koslow’s ability to get inside her characters’ heads, reveal their innermost thoughts…and then show readers how far their real-life actions deviate from their beliefs and plans. This is an astute, authentic novel, but also one that will have you laughing out loud with sympathy, mirth and glee.

Unless you’ve been living under a women-free rock, you’ve no doubt heard a mother-in-law joke or two (my favorite, direct from this book: Why do they bury mothers-in-law six feet under? Because deep down, they’re really sweet). Koslow takes every joke, stereotype, hidden resentment and “thank goodness that isn’t me,” and puts them all on steroids. With two mothers-in-law and two daughters-in-law (and our protagonist, poor, unfortunate Mel, who falls into both categories), the opportunities for generational misunderstandings, unrealistic expectations and, of course, delicious snark are endless.

Koslow wastes no chance to reveal some universal truth, usually delivered on an heirloom platter of wit. For two characters whose careers mean that they are adept at analyzing others’ thoughts and guiding them through those thoughts, Veronika and Mel are strangely, humorously unable to do the same in their personal lives. Their similarities are striking; they are always careful to respect one another in public, yet they just cannot seem to meet each other halfway behind closed doors.

While I typically avoid novels with therapists as characters because they often fail to develop, Koslow has done something really unique here, highlighting the ways that even the most brilliant, empathetic people cannot see their own flaws and missteps. Birdie, meanwhile, provides a sort of bird’s-eye view of their dynamic, all while embarking on her own journey of growth and love.

Perfect for readers of Emma Straub, J. Courtney Sullivan and Elizabeth Strout, THE REAL MRS. TOBIAS is a witty, compassionate novel about obligation, family power, complicated dynamics and, of course, the never-ending war between mothers- and daughters-in-law. It is a testament to the power of love and family, and a tongue-in-cheek romp through the moments of sheer entropy behind every beautiful family photo.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on September 16, 2022

The Real Mrs. Tobias
by Sally Koslow

  • Publication Date: September 13, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0063223740
  • ISBN-13: 9780063223745