Leigh Stein's The Fallback Plan is the story of Esther Kohler, a depressed twentysomething wandering aimlessly through her post-grad life. Many of us have been in Esther's shoes: we close the door on a significant part of our lives and face an endless hallway of doors, or perhaps, an endless hallway of blank space that appears to lead nowhere. Esther moves back in with her parents, the titular "fallback plan," and seems to be waiting for a catalyst to get her life moving again.
It's when Esther takes a job babysitting for the
Browns, a couple whose infant daughter recently died, that the story begins
moving. Esther spends her days playing in the Browns' backyard with
four-year-old May while May's mother Amy works on a mysterious art project in
the attic. Esther loves spending time with May, but her life remains rather
static as she navigates several ill-fated romantic entanglements and attempts
to write a screenplay.
There's no doubt that Leigh Stein is a talented
writer; however, I didn't feel like I could take anything away from her
characters. I like to read novels that make a character's unique struggles into something universal, something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, The
Fallback Plan did the opposite for me: Esther's post-graduate conflicts were so
mundane that they seemed specific only to her situation. Even as someone who
experienced depressive episodes in college and felt that awful sensation of
standing still while the rest of the world continues moving, I couldn't seem to
relate to Esther. And most of the secondary characters were like stick figures
rather than actual portraits of human beings.
The part of the book that resonated most with me
was Esther's memory of a cruel and traumatizing prank at a sleepover she
attended when she was thirteen. Unfortunately, the tale lasted just a few pages
and didn't really play into the novel's story as a whole. I imagine that Leigh
Stein's writing will only improve if she continues, I just hope that I'll find
something more in her future novels.