There is nothing surprising about Jennifer Weiner’s latest novel. Like Cannie Shapiro of Good in Bed and other Weiner heroines, the main character here, Allison Weiss, is an educated, overweight, Jewish, Philadelphia-based writer with a quick wit and emotional scars from her tough childhood. (In other words, she’s a lot like Jennifer Weiner.) Allison deals with her problems by popping pills — first Vicodin and Percocet prescribed by her doctor, then OxyContin that she purchases illegally online.
As you might guess, Allison’s addiction eventually spirals out of control. As it does, Weiner ticks off a series of predictable plot points: hitting bottom. Rehab. Backslide. Big family-secret reveal. Cautiously optimistic ending. Though there are a few stabs at social commentary (Weiner takes careful aim at the substance-abuse-treatment industry, and Allison writes a searing critique of Internet commenters that seems drawn from the author’s own blog), the story never really strays from after-school-special-for-grown-ups territory.
Yet All Fall Down is engrossing all the same — despite, or perhaps because of, its very predictability. Knowing how the story’s going to turn out leaves readers free to admire Weiner’s well-drawn characters (refreshingly, there are no real villains here), lively prose, and sharp sense of humor. Like the best of her work, it’s comfort food in book form — satisfying if not entirely nutritious. Weiner may smart at being excluded from the literary establishment, but there’s a reason she sticks to the formulaic beach books that have become her signature: She excels at them. It would be gauche to call All Fall Down addictive, given its subject matter, so let’s just go with ”unputdownable” instead. B