‘The Fallback Plan’ by Leigh Stein

The Fallback Plan by Leigh Stein was an all-out impulse Kindle buy. And what a top purchase it was.

There’s something exciting about starting a book that you know nothing about, that no one has pressed on you with a “You must read this!” and when you have no expectations (ever had the crushing experience of taking a book on holiday that you have been dying to read, only to start it and hate it?). That was how I approached The Fallback Plan – and I was richly rewarded with laugh-out-loud lines such as –

“All my girlfriends were having the times of their lives, like Jennifer Grey, pre-rhinoplasty.”

The story is about Esther Kohler, a girl who finds herself at the end of her college years but without a job. She moves back in with her parents and figures some time lying on the couch, re-reading her favorite children’s books, and taking old prescription tranquilizers all sounds like a good way to spend her summer. Her parents have other ideas and line up a babysitting job for her with the neighbours, Amy and Nate Brown. It’s a tricky job, though – the Browns youngest child has died, Amy is immensley fragile, Nate is needy in his own way and the Brown’s surviving daughter, the adorable May, is stuck in the maelstrom.

“Once I’d realised that to be a good babysitter I only had to be willing to behave like a four-year-old, but with a keener eye for potential dangers, I liked my new job very much.”

There is much to enjoy in this book. Stein’s style is sharp, funny and beautifully insightful –

“When Nate got in the car, he wiped his glasses on the hem of his new, dry t-shirt. He smelled the way the hills of Ireland look in soap commercials.”

and in updating her Facebook page, “Esther is to pandas as Angeline Jolie is to Cambodian orphans. Let them figure that one out. I went to get some cereal, food of the gods.”

Notably, the funny bits and the ‘one-liners’ work seamlessly with the story. I can’t stand ‘funny’ books where the author has clearly constructed situations or characters around jokes they just want to get down on paper (and sorry Kathy Lette, I love Puberty Blues but you’re the worst offender).

“‘Young, thin women typically have low blood pressure,’ he said. There was a compliment in there somewhere and I took it, and stored it somewhere I’d be able to access later.”

I really loved Stein’s references to childrens literature – The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Franweiler, Anne of Green Gables and more. I won’t give away any of the story but Esther’s parallel panda world is beautifully crafted.

“When trying to decide a course of action, it is usually helpful to ask yourself, What would Anne of Green Gables do? Something brave and outrageous. Definitely.”

and “Apparently, no one ever grew up to be noble and brave and wise. Apparently, this was just a lie perpetuated by children’s book authors. Thanks Frances Hodgson Burnett! High five, Louisa May Alcott!”

Read this book with an old-school Vermouth and dry – it totally fits with Esther’s mother’s slightly-dinky-hostess-with-the-mostess-style –

Once she got started on a project, my dad and I knew it was best to stay far away from home, because if she caught us with nothing to do, we would be given a hot glue gun and coerced to help with some doodad and tchotchke assemblage. She was like Balto, the determined sled dog. The Balto of crafts.”

4/5 – my only critisism? It was over all too soon.

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