All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner. (Atria, 2014).
Jennifer Weiner has captured the angst and humiliation of a young mother who is trapped in a situation that many professionals in their 30s, 40s and 50s face. While balancing a demanding career with raising children and caring for aging parents, people develop a variety of coping mechanisms to help them deal with daily stress. The wiser and stronger choose yoga, meditation, kickboxing (or any other form of exercise), These people protect themselves by finding “me” time to escape the job, the kid, the parents, the spouse, housework, etc.
Some people, like professional blogger Allison Weiss, however, get sucked into more destructive means of escape such as drugs and alcohol. In Allison’s case, her addiction to Percocet and Oxycodone began as many dependencies do; prescription medication for back pain. While waiting for her daughter, Ellie’s, wellness appointment to begin, Allison takes a quiz in a women’s magazine, “Has Your Drinking or Drug Use Become a Problem?” Although Allison tries to bend her answers to feel confident that the collection of pills that she hides in her Altoid box are not evidence of an addiction, she knows in her heart that she is in denial and this awareness begins to erode her fragile emotional state further.
She excuses her reckless behavior with the following list, “Ellie had been born, then I’d quit my job, then we’d moved to the suburbs, leaving my neighborhood and friends behind, and then my dad had been diagnosed. Not one thing, but dozens of them, piling up against one another until the pills became less a luxury than a necessity for getting myself through the day and falling asleep at night.” (p. 9) These are the reasons that she gives for turning to pharmaceutical support.
Complicating matters further is the fact that Allison’s handsome husband, Dave, who had been soaring in his career as a journalist, has had his hours cut and making the mortgage payments on their “Mac Mansion,” has become an increasing stressor for the couple. And what is still worse, neither of them knows how to talk to the other about facing the ever growing burden on them. In fact, Allison has come to suspect that her husband may be confiding (or even more than that) in a woman Allison refers to as Dave’s “work wife.” So Allison and Dave tiptoe around each other, too afraid to sit down and communicate, more afraid of having a bitter argument about her addiction and his betrayal than in doing something to solve their problems.
Allison has nowhere to turn. Her relationship with her mother has never been strong; Allison sees her mother as a “fragile doll,” protected and adored by her father for years. Mom’s manicure and hair are perfect, she wears expensive and impeccable St. John’s suits, and she doesn’t even drive, but lets Allison’s father chauffeur her everywhere she needs to go. She is not someone to whom Allison can turn.
However, nothing is always what it seems to be and as Allison’s life continues to spiral out of control, she has to find a way to struggle back or face the ultimate price that an addict pays for her dependence on opioids; death.
Jennifer Weiner is known for books that are humorous and light in tone, novels such as In Her Shoes and Little Earthquakes. Closer in style and content to the writing of Jodi Picoult, All Fall Down is a serious story that makes each person who reads it realize, “But for the grace of God go I.” This tale could be anyone’s in the frenetic modern life we know these days. Using the first person narrative, Allison confesses her story directly to the reader in a believable voice. She does not ask for our pity, just our understanding as how she got to where she now is.
Although I liked this novel immensely, there was one thing that bothered me. Allison’s six year old daughter, Ellie, is either the most obnoxious, demanding, pain-in-the-neck child to have been born, or she is on the autism spectrum and no one has thought to tell Allison and Dave to get their kid tested for Asperger’s. I wanted to slam the whining, little brat as I read her scenes in the book, and I don’t believe in hitting children. It seemed to me that someone at the school should have given Mom a little insight into how to give guidance top her child and thus help Allison out of a situation that had to end badly.
Of course, there are no easy solutions for addicts, and in the end Allison must figure out how to help herself get well or not. All Fall Down is an engaging, fast read that I do recommend.