On the surface, Allison Weiss has it all—a handsome and successful husband, a beautiful daughter, a McMansion in the Philadelphia suburbs, and a burgeoning writing career. Look further and you will see that Allison’s husband is becoming increasingly distant and sleeps in the guest bedroom, her daughter is exceptionally needy and doesn’t give her a moment of peace, her father is suffering from early Alzheimer’s, and her mother acts more like a child than a woman in her golden years. Allison takes ownership of all of these problems and, with the help of doctor prescribed pain killers, convinces herself everything is fine, until a magazine quiz makes her question whether her reliance on pills has become an addiction.
Many of us, myself included, look forward to a glass of wine to celebrate the beginning of the weekend or a drink or two with friends to take the edge off of a stressful work week, relationship problems etc., but I imagine there are far fewer of us who require a drink or pills or any other substance simply to propel us out of bed in the morning and get us through each and every day.
“God bless narcotics. The pills gave me the energy to get through the day. They lulled me to sleep at night, They made it possible for me to have an uncomfortable conversation with my husband.”
Jennifer Weiner’s tenth novel, All Fall Down is a thought provoking and powerful example of how quickly the occasional use of doctor prescribed pain medication can morph into an addiction. A consistent theme in the book is that Allison, an upper middle class, thirty-something white female, isn’t what most people would consider the image of an addict. Allison herself relies on superficial distinctions to convince herself that she has everything under control, and that she is not “like them.”
“So, I’d come to school a little loopy. Nobody had gotten hurt, right? And I wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t. I wasn’t taking that much, and it was prescription medication, not heroine I was buying on the streets. It wasn’t like I was some cracked-out junkie.”
“That woman—she was what addiction looked like. Not me. Not me.”
Allison doesn’t shoot up in alleyways, she is not homeless, she doesn’t sell her body in exchange for drugs, yet she does manipulate her doctors, lie to her family members, and purchase pills from illegal websites. She repeatedly insists that she can stop at any time while simultaneously planning her next fix.
Although the novel is light on romance, the relationship between Allison and her husband, Dave, is an important one. As Allison’s career flourishes, it seems Dave’s career is floundering and this causes unspoken tension between the two. Add to this, Dave working long hours and Allison taking on so many responsibilities in the home and they have very little time together. Weiner skillfully shows the earlier years in the marriage with flashbacks. Through snippets of the past, the love between the two is clear, but in the present, Allison struggles with feeling attractive, having gained significant weight since giving birth. When she finds a string of emails between Dave and one of his female colleagues, she worries that he is having an affair, but is too focused on managing her growing addiction to give her marriage the attention it needs.
I found All Fall Down to be a compelling, albeit painful, read at times because the reader rides shotgun while Allison convinces herself that taking one more, two more, ten more pills is no big deal. As the reader, we know she is deluding herself but we have to wait until she hits bottom and reaches her own conclusion. Allison is an extremely likeable character. Her love for her father is evident, as is her desire to be a good mother to her daughter, Ellie. A scene between Allison and her mother is especially heart tugging and an example of how we don’t always know what motivates another’s behavior. I pulled for Allison and her husband Dave to make it despite all of the lies and lack of communication. And most importantly, I rooted for Allison to take ownership of her addiction and have a successful rehabilitation.