I’m pretty sure The Fallback Plan was written for me. I mean, literally me. It concerns a 22 yo girl (er, young woman?), recently graduated with an arts degree, who moves back in with her parents in Suburbia because of a lack of savings, direction, motivation, or a plan. I just turned 23, graduated last year with a degree in creative writing, and am about to move back in with my parents in Suburbia. Sure, I have “plans” to find a job and work on applications to MFA programs (screenwriting, just like Esther the protagonist, of course), but I’m still floating back to a place that’s not really home, aimless for the most part, and inclined to offer up a big “fuck you” re The Future. (Not really. Really, I’m just scared.)
I guess what I’m trying to say is that while The Fallback Plan is not exactly a great book (though not bad), I happened to read it at precisely the time at which it would have maximum impact on someone like me. The author herself, Leigh Stein, is of a similar age to me, with similar pop-culture predilections, so every single allusion to a song, a book, Facebook interactions, college experiences, a childhood memory—these all rung uncannily true for me. So while the writing was decent but nothing special, the voice funny but not uniquely engaging, I felt this character in a very real way.
This character is Esther, an actress in college, depressed but not in a severe or manic way—it’s more of an afterthought. She gets impatient showing her dad how to change fonts on the computer, tells herself she’ll write a screenplay about pandas, gets drunk with old childhood friends who never managed to escape their hometown, even for school, and half-jokingly wishes for a disease— not debilitating—that would enable her to get government subsidization and live without any real purpose. With her mom’s nudging, Esther gets a job watching the 4 yo daughter of a nearby couple who are still recovering from the tragic loss of their baby daughter the year before. She manages to become the confidant for both adults, while developing genuine maternal instincts for the daughter; essentially, she finds herself entangled in a family which is experiencing both what she dreads and is nostalgic for—real pain and the innocence of childhood.
The book is a very quick read, light and easy to digest, but it’s got its finger on the pulse of my current generation, and I think that kind of relevancy deserves some respect. Esther is neither unlikable nor particularly endearing, yet she is undeniably emblematic of the many young, white, middle-class 20somethings that are both entitled and adrift, immature but also facing the inheritance of a truly fucked-up society, one which seems to reward perpetual infantilism. Yet Esther grows up during the course of the book. Not a lot, no leaps and bounds, but a noticeable difference. Baby steps. (Not an accidental term here.) Here’s hoping I take longer strides during my year at home.