Jennifer Weiner already spooked you last Halloween with her eShort “Disconnected,” and now in her upcoming novel All Fall Down (out June 17), she’s taking us back to rehab but in an entirely different light. In All Fall Down, Allison Weiss is a typical working mother, trying to balance a business, aging parents, a demanding daughter, and a marriage. But when the website she develops takes off, she finds herself challenged to the point of being completely overwhelmed. Her husband’s becoming distant, her daughter’s acting spoiled, her father is dealing with early Alzheimer’s, and her mother’s barely dealing at all. As she struggles to hold her home and work life together, and meet all of the needs of the people around her, Allison finds that the painkillers she was prescribed for a back injury help her deal with more than just physical discomfort—they help her feel calm and get her through her increasingly hectic days. However, when Allison’s use gets to the point that she can no longer control—or hide—it, she ends up in a world she never thought she’d experience outside of a movie theater: rehab. Amid the teenage heroin addicts, the alcoholic grandmothers, the barely-trained “recovery coaches,” and the counselors who seem to believe that one mode of recovery fits all, Allison struggles to get her life back on track, even as she’s convincing herself that she’s not as bad off as the women around her.
See the first peek at the cover of All Fall Down above, and read on for more from Weiner about the novel:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Do you like switching off between your Halloween-themed novels and your others? Do you write both at the same time?
JENNIFER WEINER: I love writing Halloween-themed short stories because they’re such a departure. I am a lifelong fan of Stephen King and Peter Straub, so it’s fun to be able to stretch myself and try to write horror. This year I was able to take one of the minor characters from All Fall Down and talk more about her. With my books, there are multiple rounds of edits and revisions, so I wrote “Disconnected” during one of the weeklong breaks when the draft of All Fall Down was with my editor and my agent and I was home waiting for their notes.
How did you research the effect painkillers have on moms like Allison?
I went in with the knowledge that painkiller addiction is a huge, and growing, problem for women – especially white, middle and upper-middle-class women, the ones you’d see in yoga class or the carpool lane or at Whole Foods and never suspect they had a problem. I did a lot of reading, a lot of talking to people, a lot of following different blogs and Twitter feeds, and read a lot about addiction, and rehab, and women in recovery. 2013 seemed to be the year when prescription painkiller addition became a big story everywhere from The New York Times to People magazine. (Even a former ‘Bachelorette’ came out as a recovering alcoholic!)
So I read the news, and I spent a lot of time on TheFix.com. Some books that I found especially helpful were Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth about Addiction Treatment — and How to Get Help That Works by Anne M. Fletcher, which was eye-opening in terms of how rehabs work (or don’t), how they are (or are not) regulated, who’s actually providing the treatment and how they define success; and Her Best-Kept Secret: Why Women Drink — and How They Can Regain Control by Gabrielle Glaser, which dealt with whether the twelve-step program, which is what almost all the rehabs in America use, is effective in treating women. Carolyn Knapp’s memoir Drinking: A Love Story was a riveting look at how even the most smart, successful, got-it-all woman can be a high-functioning addict – I don’t think I’ll ever forget the passages where Knapp describes driving with one eye open, praying she won’t hit anything or anyone, or waking up in the morning and having to prowl the tiny Boston streets and figure out where she’d parked. In All Fall Down, Allison turns up her nose at David Sheff’s Beautiful Boy, but I thought it was an incredible read, especially alongside Nicolas Sheff’s Tweaked. Amy Hatvany’s Best Kept Secret (theme alert!) was a great fictional look about how a stressed-out working mom finds herself using wine as a crutch, and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep showed a character in recovery, and how the work of staying sober continues, even five or ten or thirteen years down the road. (I loved Margaret Atwood’s review of Dr. Sleep where she talked about The True Knot – the collection of baddies – as a kind of dark family, and AA as their opposing family).
Tell me about some of the characters Allison meets in rehab. Why does Allison feel like she’s not as bad off as they are?
One of the great dangers with prescription painkiller addiction is that you’re getting stuff from a pharmacy, prescribed by a doctor (unless you’re getting it some other way). There’s an easy distinction that Allison makes – she’s not as bad as the girls getting heroin on the street, because her drug of choice is legal, or as bad as the women gulping down two bottles of wine, because she’s taking medicine, with the air of legitimacy that goes along with it. Medicine can’t be dangerous, medicine can’t be addictive — after all, your doctor gave it to you! And, instead of nodding out or passing out, prescription painkillers let her function. Instead of just taking her drug of choice to escape from reality, she’s using it as a way – albeit a dysfunctional way – to get through her days.
One interesting insider-y thing I learned is that some female opiate addicts feel more comfortable at AA meetings than they do at NA (Narcotics Anonymous) meetings. They feel more kinship with alcoholics, who weren’t breaking laws to obtain their drug of choice, than they do with other drug abusers, who were taking illegal drugs.
I liked writing about the people that you met in rehab, because there’s room both humor and heartbreak, whether I was writing about the seventy-three-year-old lady in the World’s Best Grandma sweatshirt coming to terms with her alcoholism for the first time, or the nineteen-year-old heroin addict who comes to meetings every day dressed like she’s ready for the club, addiction doesn’t always look the way you expect. That was something I thought was both interesting and important to write about.
In a nutshell, what are you thinking of Juan Pablo’s Bachelor season so far?
Finally, the important stuff.
There’s already been a lot of smart stuff written about how this season’s exposed the unspoken sexual politics of The Bachelor – how women aren’t encouraged or allowed to express sexual agency, how it’s all about the man choosing (or not) to get busy in the Fantasy Suites. As Clare’s recent aquatic adventures showed, if you’re the girl who’s going for the gold, you’ll get the amoral temptress treatment (and have to do your walk of shame in front of the entire viewing public). Bottom line: Juan Pablo’s got a major Madonna/whore thing going on, where the women, especially the single mothers, are untouchable to the point where he’s conflicted about even kissing them, and some of the other ladies –drunkety Victoria, hot-to-trot Clare – are either extremely touchable, or easy to dismiss.
Sad to say, but I liked Juan-Pablo a lot better when he was on Desiree’s season, talking less and appearing shirtless more. The better we get to know him, whether it’s an interview about gays being “more pervert” or the weirdness around his daughter seeing Daddy give a lady “extra time” (I tweeted that maybe “extra time” means something else in Spanish), the less desirable I’m finding him.