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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: The Fallback Plan

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.


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