52 in 52: All Fall Down, by Jennifer Weiner

[This review is based on the hardcover edition published by the Atria Books imprint of Simon and Schuster, Inc. in 2014.]

Here’s the deal:
Allison Weiss has it all: a loving husband, a beautiful daughter, a fancy house in a Philadelphia suburb, and a blogging career she loves. But all is not as it seems — Dave’s big career plans aren’t panning out, Ellie is a super-sensitive preschooler, the house was an impulse buy on Dave’s behalf, and the blog is causing tension because Allison is earning more money through it than Dave is in journalism. To add to her troubles, Allison’s father, who has Alzheimer’s, must be placed in a nursing home and her mother, Ronnie, has no idea how to care for herself. In her struggle to maintain control over every aspect of her busy family life, Allison begins self-medicating, first with Vicodin (prescribed by a doctor for a back injury sustained at the gym) and then with OxyContin. She digs herself deeper and deeper into the hole of addiction as everything falls apart — “all falls down,” so to speak — around her. She eventually finds herself in rehab, where a shocking family secret comes to light. Will Allison be able to recover…or will she relapse and lose everything and everyone she loves forever?

What I thought when I finished reading:
Shocking, horrifying, heartbreaking…and incredibly realistic. Well-written. An amazing read!

And here’s why:
Full disclosure: I’ve read nearly all of Jennifer Weiner’s work, and I think I own each of her books. My introduction to her novels came back in 2003, when my mom and I took a women’s studies course together at our local community college. The professor asked each of us to select a novel that one might label “chick lit” and be able to discuss why it carries that label, as well as why it does or doesn’t deserve to be called such. We selected Ms. Weiner’s first two novels, Good in Bed (2002) and In Her Shoes (2003) and have been fans ever since. When information started popping up about All Fall Down, I decided to ignore all of it — I trusted in Ms. Weiner’s track record as an author and wanted to read this with no prior knowledge to color my reading experience. And so, without having read so much as a blurb or the dust jacket beforehand, I dove into All Fall Down.

I connected with Allison from page one, when Ms. Weiner wrote that she was filling out a magazine quiz while waiting for her daughter’s annual well visit; I thought, Okay, this is a mom of a young child, just like me. What we didn’t have in common, however, was that the quiz Allison was filling out was called, “Has your drinking or drug use become a problem?” I’m that person who hates lighting matches out of fear of accidentally touching the flame; who avoids driving in snow because she’s not confident behind the wheel and is terrified of spinning out on a patch of black ice; who was terrified about being sent home with a prescription for Percocet after having a child via C-section because of the possibilities surrounding having unsupervised narcotics in my home. I don’t think I’d ever find myself in Allison’s situation solely because of the trepidation I feel around drugs, prescription or otherwise, but you just never know. I came away from All Fall Down with the realization that addiction could literally happen to anyone, and that’s an extremely frightening prospect.

My heart broke for Allison the first time she took more than the prescribed dose of painkillers, and it shattered into smaller and smaller pieces as her addiction spiraled completely out of her control. At one point, she ingests something like 16 pills in a single day; for someone like me, who worries about taking a pair of Advil for a headache, that’s just insane. Her “high bottom” was incredibly sad, but I actually wanted to scream at her to stop — oh, Ellie! — just as she hit her true “rock bottom”. You will be sad and angry and speechless and then, when the realization hits her, you’ll wish you could just hug her and cry together. The family secret I teased earlier will help you, as a reader, to understand how this could have happened to Allison and how she can find a way to take control and get her life back.

I’m on the fence about Dave, though. He was clearly jealous and acting petty over the fact that Allison, whom he’d wanted to simply be a stay-at-home mom, was making more through her blogging than he was with his reporting…but that’s not a good enough excuse to turn a blind eye to her rapid downfall. He knew something was going on, and he knew that she could have been putting Ellie’s life in danger, but he waited until she’d completely lost control to ship her off to rehab? He was the one who purchased a house without a guarantee about a book deal or an advance beforehand, and he also put in an offer on the place without consulting Allison. I get the romanticism of it, but it was completely impractical on his part and just added to her stress. (Not that that excuses her drug abuse, either.) Marriage is about working together and supporting each other, and that didn’t appear to be happening between Allison and Dave for most of the book.

And the ending…oh, that ending! Normally I prefer happy endings — or even just neat endings — but Jennifer Weiner couldn’t have done a better job here. The fact that Allison’s story stops where it does leaves quite a few unanswered questions, which I won’t get into for the sake of not spoiling anything. I personally was very happy with the ending, and I’d love to know if you agree!

So would I recommend this book?
Yes!! Yessity-yes-yes-yes! Run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore or Target or Walmart or indie bookshop or wherever, or pick up your NOOK or Kindle or whichever e-reader you might have, and pick up All Fall Down right now! And when you do — or if you have already, even better! — share your thoughts in the comments!

Follow Jennifer Weiner on Twitter and Facebook, and don’t forget to check out her website!

Click here to purchase All Fall Down via Barnes and Noble or IndieBound!

  • Isi

    Sounds great! I didn’t know the book before.
    I’m also in the group of people who can’t understand addictions because I’m like you in that aspect.