by Rebekah Benoit
In Jennifer Weiner’s latest, the author takes on the fraught topic of addiction, offering a unique look at this issue which is always so present in any community. Weiner doesn’t focus on the shambling alcoholics or drug-addicted homeless, which so many of us immediately think of when we think about addiction, however. Instead, Weiner focuses on the very real, but much more taboo, topic of addiction among the rest of us. It’s an issue that is emerging in so many wealthy enclaves across North America, but it’s also one that we’re loath to address as a community. How many glasses of wine is too many after a long day at work? Is it okay to take a Valium or a Percocet, just to take the edge off? Are prescription drugs somehow in a gray area when they’re prescribed by a doctor? What exactly does an addict look like, anyway?
Allison Weiss has it all, by nearly anyone’s standards. She left a career she enjoyed in the big city to move to the suburbs, into a sprawling mansion where she spends her days raising her spirited and often difficult daughter and tending to her working husband’s many needs, picking up dry cleaning and tidying the house and shopping for furniture online.
Behind the façade of perfection, however, an illusion Allison works so hard to maintain, her life is crumbling. Her enormous home is echoing and empty of furniture, the consequence of gigantic mortgage payments and a lack of motivation on Allison’s part to turn her museum into a real home. Her adorable precocious daughter is also exhausting, making constant demands and throwing wild temper tantrums which Allison is too exhausted to stand up to. Her husband, once a promising journalist with a book deal, is now struggling to make ends meet, and the blogging hobby that Allison began as a lark has turned into a full-time job, paying the bills and putting incredible pressure on Allison to be the breadwinner as well as the stay-at-home mom who keeps the family together. And to top it all off, she suspects her husband might be having an affair.
So who can blame Allison when, after hurting her back at the gym, she finds herself turning to the Percocet painkillers prescribed her doctor for more than just pain relief? Popping a pill allows Allison to drift into a reality where the pressures ease off, the stress disappears and she feels able to handle all of the crazy demands of her life. Gradually, one pill at the end of the day becomes two, then four and then six. No longer able to find the serenity she needs from Percocet, Allison convinces her doctor to prescribe her Oxycontin, and then, when she’s no longer able to acquire the drugs she needs legally, she finds her way down the dark rabbit hole of the internet, where you can buy literally anything you want, for a price.
Within months, Allison’s life is collapsing around her. Friends and colleagues are starting to look her askance, detecting a slur in her speech and a strangeness in her movements. Her husband buries himself in work and exercise, unwilling to confront the problem he can see growing in his marriage. Even having her car keys taken away by her child’s teacher isn’t enough for Allison to see her rock-bottom. It takes an intervention by her family, the revelation of a long-held family secret and a forced trip to rehab for Allison to finally face her own demons and admit that she might truly be an addict.
I have always loved Jennifer Weiner’s books. I find that she has the unique ability to really connect with her readers, to make her female characters human enough to resonate with readers. It also helps that her style is by turns witty and heartrending, and paced to keep you flipping pages with the urgency of an addict desperate for another pill.
Allison’s character was no different. As moms, we tend to hold ourselves up to incredibly high, even impossible standards, and whether we’re working or staying at home, I think all of us have felt the pressure to be better at what we do, and have worried about the inevitability of disappointing someone. Allison’s struggle to be the perfect mom isn’t a fiction – it’s an everyday reality for many of us.
by Rebekah Benoit