This reading group guide forAll Fall Downincludes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
To her family, friends, and colleagues, Allison Weiss leads a charmed life: she lives in a McMansion in a posh suburb of Philadelphia with her handsome husband, Dave, and adorable daughter, Ellie, and she has a fabulous job writing for the popular website Ladiesroom.com. But just as Allison’s blogging gig turns into a full-fledged career complete with TV appearances and newspaper attention, Dave’s high-profile book deal falls through and he becomes increasingly distant. Ellie begins acting out and Allison finds herself devoting all her spare time to her father, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s, and her seemingly helpless mother. To take the edge off, Allison reaches for the Altoids tin in her purse, which is filled with painkillers prescribed for a back injury, and convinces herself that her pill-popping habit isn’t any different than a glass of wine before bed.
Soon Allison is taking dozens of pills a day, hopping from doctor to doctor to obtain prescriptions for ailments both real and imaginary. Her addiction intensifies when she learns how to anonymously order Oxycontin online; she spends thousands of dollars on pills, all the while hiding her drug use from everyone and putting those she loves in dangerous situations. When Dave discovers Allison’s addiction, she decides to play by the rules and go to rehab so she can come home to rejoin her family. But even after the pills are out of her system, Allison faces challenges and unexpected obstacles that force to her wonder if life will ever be the same again. Written with Jennifer Weiner’s signature blend of humor and insight, All Fall Down tells with heart and compassion the story of one woman’s harrowing journey through addiction and back again.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Why does Allison initially turn to painkillers as a way to solve her problems, or at least to make her feel better for a few hours? How do her answers to the magazine quiz she takes at Ellie’s doctor’s office make her feel, and how does she justify taking a pill in the car just moments after she completes the quiz? How would Allison’s story have been different if she had sought help immediately after taking the quiz?
2. From her work and her marriage to her role as primary caretaker for her daughter and parents, how do the pressures on Allison contribute to her addiction? Do you think that the pressures that Allison faces justify her addiction, or does she use the challenges in her life as an excuse to take more pills? How are the pressures facing Allison unique to her role as a mother and a wife, and what is the author saying about the pressures on women in society in general?
3. After Dave’s book deal falls through and Allison’s blogging becomes their primary source of income, how does their relationship change? Why do you think the author chose to have Allison write for a website specifically geared toward women and women’s issues?
4. As Allison sinks deeper into her addiction, her relationships with her parents, husband, daughter, friends, and boss change as everyone adapts to an Allison who is less reliable, stable, and emotionally present. How do Allison’s addiction and her subsequent efforts at recovery impact the people around her for better and for worse? How does Allison handle the changes she observes in the people she loves? What surprises her about her family’s and friends’ reactions and responses to her addiction, and what surprised you as a reader?
5. How does Allison’s definition of self change when she and Dave move to the suburbs, and why? How do Allison’s hopes for life in the suburbs compare to the reality of her new situation, and what does she give up to fit into the new life that Dave chose for them? Does living in the suburbs contribute to Allison’s addiction, or do you think she would have faced the same issues had she stayed in the city?
6. How does Allison’s ability to anonymously order pills through Penny Lane facilitate her addiction? Do you think her addiction would have reached such an extreme place if she didn’t have the knowledge and resources to order pills over the Internet? What does Allison’s reliance on ordering drugs online say about technology and the future of addiction?
7. When he finally confronts Allison about her addiction, Dave is extremely angry that she has put their daughter’s life in jeopardy. Could Dave have interfered with his wife’s addiction sooner? If you think Dave suspected that Allison was abusing drugs, why did he choose to wait so long to act? Do you think that Dave feels any responsibility for Allison’s addiction?
8. At Meadowcrest, Allison meets a range of women who are addicts, including a heroin-addicted teenage mother and a devout Christian alcoholic grandmother. Did the depiction of Allison’s friends at the rehab center change your perception of what an addict looks like? Which of the characters introduced at Meadowcrest did you sympathize or identify with most, and why?
9. From lying to Mrs. Dale about how impaired she was behind the wheel to her reluctance to share her full story with the women at Meadowcrest, Allison continually fabricates stories that hide the depth of her addiction. Why do you think Allison seems to be addicted to lying, and why is it so impossible for her to face the truth about her addiction? When do you think she finally realizes that she will never fully recover unless she is honest about her addiction with herself and others?
10. Compared to the women who wind up at Meadowcrest after committing felonies or losing custody of their children, Allison feels her story is “boring, bare-bones, drama-free,” but Mary points out that Allison just has a “high bottom” as opposed to a “rock bottom.” Discuss the concept of “high bottom” versus “rock bottom.” How does Allison’s view of her addiction and her “high bottom” make her feel different from the other women in rehab whose situations appear more dire?
11. Despite the intense subject matter of the book, the author manages to infuse humor into Allison’s journey, such as when she coaxes details about The Bachelor from Wanda the aide, or when she hatches her plan to escape by staging a musical about addiction and life in rehab. As a reader, how did you feel when you read these humorous scenes? Were you surprised that the author was able to bring some light to such a dark situation?
12. Even in the depths of her addiction, Allison strives to be a better mother than her own mother was to her, even sneaking out of Meadowcrest to attend Ellie’s sixth birthday party. What does Allison do differently from her own mother, and in what ways are they the same? Were you surprised when Allison’s mother revealed her secret toward the end of the book? How, if at all, would Allison’s life have changed if she had known the truth about her mother sooner?
13. Aubrey’s phone call at the end of the book reminds Allison how quickly addiction can consume a person. Why is it so important to Allison that she refuse Aubrey’s request to come stay with her? What do you think the future holds for both of them? In a year, where do you think Allison will be in terms of her relationships with her family and her work? In five years?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Select an addiction memoir to read in tandem with All Fall Down, and compare the experiences of the writer with those of Allison. You may want to select a memoir written by a woman, but you don’t have to. Discuss how the writer’s struggles with addiction and recovery differ from Allison’s, and how their stories are similar. A few books to consider include Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp, Lit by Mary Karr, and Tweak by Nic Sheff.
2. Read Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker profile of Jennifer Weiner, “Written Off: Jennifer Weiner’s Quest for Literary Respect” (January 13, 2014). Discuss how the issues raised by Weiner about men, women, and writing come to light in the novel through Dave’s work at the Examiner and Allison’s work at Ladiesroom.com. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2014/01/13/140113fa_fact_mead
3. If you can, spend a day or an afternoon volunteering at a drug or alcohol treatment facility in your area.
4. Visit Jennifer Weiner’s website at www.jenniferweiner.com to learn more about her and her books, and follow her on Twitter @jenniferweiner. Fans of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette: Be sure to tune into her live tweets of the show on Monday nights and join the conversation!