The Fallback Plan is Leigh Stein's hilarious debut novel about the tricky period between graduating from college and moving out of your parents’ house, but at 26 she is already an accomplished writer. A former New Yorker staffer and frequent contributor to its “Book Bench” blog, her poetry has been published in numerous journals, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and earned her Poets & Writers Magazine’sAmy Award.
When I was twenty-two, I was living with my parents in suburban Chicagoland, just like Esther Kohler, the main character in my first novel, The Fallback Plan. But unlike Esther, I had a boyfriend, whom I’d met when we were randomly paired at an audition for a community college production of Medea.
“I’m Leigh,” I said.
“Jason,” he said. He was very attractive, the way real actors are. I knew right away I would have to win him over with my brains.
“Oh,” I said, “are you auditioning for Jason?”
“Am I what?”
(Jason is the name of Medea’s husband. He abandons her for a princess and so she kills their children and rides off in a chariot.)
After the audition, we had a snowball fight in the soft yellow light of the parking lot, and Jason cooked me dinner: Kool Aid and penne alfredo. He found out I was a poet. I found out he was only nineteen. Neither of us got cast in the play, but it didn’t matter. I was busy teaching acting, singing, and piano lessons to children under twelve, and making a gazillion dollars. (OK, not exactly, but again, I was living with my parents for free.)
“We should move somewhere,” Jason told me, his rich cougar girlfriend, after a few months.
“We should move to New Mexico and you can write a book and I can work.”
“That’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever said to me,” I said.
And then we did it.
We rented a twenty-two foot truck and moved to Albuquerque sight unseen. I started writing my novel on a used Acer laptop I’d bought off a friend for $175. Every morning, I wrote at a desk with a view of the Sandia Mountains, which glowed pink at dawn and dusk. At night, I waited tables at a diner. The best part about writing a novel for the first time was that I didn’t know I couldn’t do it, so I just did it. I made friends with another writer who told me I had to turn twenty pages in to her each week and that seemed reasonable because what did I know? Very little. I was twenty-two.
Sadly, our relationship didn’t outlast the six-month lease we signed, and our southwestern romance ended in violence and heartbreak. I felt like a failure because not only did I have to move back in with my parents again, but my novel wasn’t even finished. Other than a cowboy hat and a pair of rattlesnake fang earrings, I didn’t feel I had anything tangible to show for the adventure I’d just had.
It took me another year to finish the writing and editing, and a year of being rejected by every major publisher before my book finally found a home. Jason and I stayed in touch, and just this summer he asked if he could read my novel. He said he stayed up all night to finish it and loved it; he was so proud of me.
In June, he actually came to New York visit me, and it was the first time I’d seen him in two years. It would also be the last. Six weeks later, he died in a motorcycle accident. My book is dedicated to Jason, in gratitude for the adventure we shared.