All Fall Down
Simon & Schuster
Copy courtesy of Simon & Schuster AUS
Allison Weiss is a working mother increasingly under pressure. Having given up her job to be a stay at home mother to five year old Eloise, she finds herself stretched more thin each day. She wrote a personal blog piece that went viral and was offered a blogging job based on the strength of that. Now it’s up to Allison to find unique content to write about and post as well as taking care of Eloise and the new, large house that her newspaper reporter husband bought without really consulting her. With his job increasingly under threat, they seem to be relying on Allison to earn more and more money and keep them above water. Allison’s parents are also ageing and her father is slipping further into the grasp of dementia. Her mother is not the sort of personality that seems able to deal with this and so a lot of his care and organisation falls to Allison.
Allison has a secret for how she manages to hold everything together: painkillers. She was prescribed some for a back injury quite some time ago and she finds that they give her the edge she needs to get through the day. When her 5yo daughter is being challenging or she has a blog post to churn out on little to no sleep or her father has once again forgotten where the bathroom is, Allison pops a little pill and gets on with life. They enable her to get things done and if the bottles are disappearing a little faster each time, well it’s no big deal. She can just ring another doctor, make some noises about her back still playing up and get some more. It’s not like she has a problem. Right?
I’ve read two of Jennifer Weiner’s books before and even though she’s well-lauded as a fantastic chick lit author, I didn’t really enjoy either of them so I was apprehensive about starting this one. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised and this is by far, the best book I’ve ever read by her. In fact, I couldn’t put it down.
Allison is a thirty-something former graphic web designer who worked for a newspaper. She met and married Dave, a court reporter with the same paper and later on, gave up her job when she had Eloise, their daughter. Then they moved to a new, bigger house and Dave’s job began to seem under threat. Reporters were being laid off and although he’d escaped the rounds of redundancies so far, it seemed only a matter of time. Allison’s blogging began as a hobby, something to take her away from the day to day rearing of her child and engage in adult conversation. It segued into an actual job that begins to take over more and more of her life.
Like Allison, I started a blog for much the same reasons. I was a stay at home mother and was quite isolated. My husband works long hours and mostly at night. Reading and blogging was a way for me to still exercise my brain. I don’t get paid for it in cash but the respite and also intellectual challenge it provides is something highly enjoyable. And even though my blogging is a hobby and not a job, it can be incredibly time consuming at times. It’s easy to sink into the habit of read-write-post-comment etc and suddenly find you haven’t done the dishes, the baby is still in his pyjamas and you’re still not quite done yet. Allison is struggling big time and she’s discovered that popping the painkillers she was given a long time ago for a back injury are the only things that help her get through each day.
The way in which Allison’s usage escalates is quite scary because her justification is so entrenched in her mind. There’s utterly no problem with deceiving and lying to doctors, keeping several on her call list for more scripts. She doesn’t even have to go and see them, they just call in a script at the chemist for her and she goes and picks it up. Then she discovers a site where she can buy her pills online and her usage goes through the roof. It also becomes impossible for her to hide it now, she’s taking so much and the affects on her are beginning to be extremely obvious. She hits rock bottom and her husband checks her into rehab.
Allison has a hard time adjusting to rehab because she still doesn’t believe that she has a problem and all of the other patients only really cement that because their stories are much more horrible than hers. There’s no other housewife, no ordinary person just like her for her to look at and see that yes, she is just like them and she does have a big problem. Not everyone who goes to rehab is there for heroin or cocaine or alcohol, there are plenty that go for Vicodin and the like. However because Allison doesn’t really encounter any others, she continues to believe that she doesn’t do anything wrong. Even listening to people tell her that they started on pills and then eventually sought out other methods for their high, doesn’t sink in. I actually would’ve liked to see Allison come face to face with someone just like her, who was doing what she was doing to hold a mirror up to her behaviour. At the same time, I understand the decision not to have her identify with anyone because it does make the realisation that she does have a problem and that she does need help, a much more powerful one and one that she needs to make on her own.
All Fall Down is a thoughtful exploration into modern family life and the pressures and temptations of a “legal” drug addiction. It touches on genetics and the susceptibility to these sorts of addictions and how easy it can be at times, to hide them. Allison becomes adept at lying and hiding things and the amount of money she spent on getting her fix became astronomical. I don’t drink and I’ve never taken painkillers (I actually don’t even know anything about Vicodin or percocet, like which is stronger etc) but there are times when I desperately wish for something magical to get me through the day. I could relate to Allison in some aspects (although not all) and the pressures and stresses that she felt. Her child was extremely high maintenance as well and she seemed to have little assistance from her husband in much of the parenting.
I definitely enjoyed this book, I think it’s made me finally see what so many others do in Jennifer Weiner’s work and I’d be happy to read more of her books.
Book #128 of 2014