Title: The Fallback Plan
Author: Leigh Stein
Release Date: January 3, 2012
Publisher: Melville House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Esther Kohler has just graduated from Northwestern University with a seemingly useless theater degree and has been unable to find a job. Resigned to her “fallback plan”, Esther moves back in with her parents. They line up a job for her as a nanny for a four-year-old child named May, and as Esther becomes a part of this family, she learns that nothing is as rosy as it seems on the surface.
The Fallback Plan was a novel that spoke to me (and likely, will speak to most liberal arts college graduates from the last ten years or so). I went to Northwestern University, though my degree was a bit more practical than Esther’s. And most people, especially those who have graduated in the past few years during the down economy, can attest to the difficulty of finding a job. Therefore I was intrigued by this novel from the minute I heard about and was excited to get to know Esther and to see how she coped with moving back home.
The best part of The Fallback Plan is Leigh Stein’s amazing writing style. She writes with a sparkling wit that will have readers laughing out loud. It’s clear she poured herself into the character of Esther. While I definitely wouldn’t assume Stein based Esther on herself, I have a feeling the author shares the main character’s irreverent sense of humor. I would have loved to be friends with Esther; at times, it’s difficult to remember she isn’t a real person.
Esther suffers from heartbreaking, crippling depression in The Fallback Plan. While Stein writes about it in a hilarious way, it’s important to remember how serious of an illness it can be. In this way, it reminded me of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – a coming-of-age story in which the female main character realizes that life isn’t just going to fall into place for her, and is unable to deal with it. It speaks to a modern audience in a smart way, which makes incredibly relevant.
Indeed, Esther definitely isn’t anywhere close to a perfect character in The Fallback Plan. She’s flawed and realistic, looking for some sort of validation for her life, which she views as pathetic. It’s frustrating when she spends time with her going-nowhere friends; sometimes she seems unable or unwilling to help herself, which is in line with her severe depression. It’s through May that Esther finds a sense of purpose, though even that threatens to slip through her fingers.
The book does have a few weak spots – Esther tells a made-up story called The Littlest Panda, which is distracting, and despite her serious issues with depression, Esther never really gets the help she needs. Because of this, it makes for a dark read; readers will wonder whether Esther will go through life under the weight of her mental illness, or if she will finally seek help for it. Still, it makes for a provocative read; those who remember the confusion and frustration of finding a job after college will likely find value in this book.