New York Times best-selling author Jennifer Weiner (pronounced WHY-ner) continues to break the molds of traditional “chick-lit” in her latest novel, All Fall Down, a haunting tale of a woman who has it all: the beautiful house, the handsome husband, the darling daughter—and the pesky hang-ups and habits surfacing in her quiet battle with addiction. Summoning both the heartwarming and heart-wrenching moments from her own life’s experiences, the 20-year Philly-area transplant and former Inquirer reporter is renowned within the genre for the complexity and depth of her characters. By touching on the intricacies of her female protagonists’ interactions with the world around them, Weiner, an 11-time author, takes her readers along for memorable rides as she thrusts these well-crafted characters into incredibly difficult situations while cleverly maintaining a welcome air of tenderness and liberal splashes of sharp-witted comedy.
Ahead of her appearance at the Free Library’s Central branch on Thursday, PW chatted with Weiner about the harsh realities of substance abuse, the trials of family life and the ability, when it’s all said and done, to bounce back from adversity.
PW: What was your inspiration for All Fall Down?
JENNIFER WEINER: Obviously, addiction’s a huge issue. It’s all over the news because of high-profile celebrity deaths—and also the rising number of women addicts. I wanted to write about addiction specifically, but I wanted to use it as a way to consider the bigger question of happiness and authenticity. People in the recovery world will tell you that an addict’s real problem isn’t alcohol or pills or pot or whatever, but feelings and not knowing how to deal with them. I wanted to write about a woman who has everything the world has told her to want, who’s gotten a life that looks great from the outside, but who still feels unhappy and unfulfilled.
How much influence has your life in Philadelphia had on your creative process?
One of the best compliments I get is when people assume I’ve spent my whole life in Philadelphia and tell me that I write like I grew up here. I didn’t. I grew up in Connecticut and came to Philadelphia in 1994 to write for the Inquirer and fell instantly in love. Philadelphia is my Little Bear’s bed, and chair, and porridge: not too big and not too small, not too hard and not too soft, not too hot and not too cool. I spent a summer in Washington, and a summer living in New York City—long enough in both places to know they weren’t for me. Philadelphia has everything a big city has to offer, but feels like living in a small neighborhood, and, of course, it’s so much more affordable than other big cities.
I love that you can walk everywhere. When you grow up in a suburb and have to get in your car to do anything, there’s a great freedom that comes with being able to run all your errands and visit a great coffee shop and bookstore on foot. I love the amazing restaurants. I love the museums. I love certain blocks with narrow cobblestone streets and beautifully-tended flower boxes and flags and pocket parks. I love the quirky, random, half-hidden things, like the Philadelphia Sketch Club, where you can show up, pay $10 and draw a live model in the company of other artists. (I don’t draw, but I just bought a beautiful painting at their show). Or the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, where you show up Sunday morning and a volunteer leader takes you on a 12- or 15-mile [trip], then you eat brunch and ride back home. I love walking my dog on Forbidden Drive and ice-skating with my kids at the Blue Cross River Rink, which had this great pop-up winter village last year. And doing hot yoga at the Bikram studio at 15th and Sansom—I don’t actually love that, but I love it when it’s over.
Your stories feature well-rounded, multi-faceted female characters. What would you like to see more of from other authors within your genre?
I love reading well-rounded, smart, funny female protagonists in all genres—literary fiction, detective stories, science fiction where the girl saves the world. There’s nothing special I’d like to see authors in my genre do. What I’d really love is for my genre to get the respect that genre fiction by men receives. And for all the children of the world to join hands and sing a song.
Do you have any projects in the future that your readers, locally and outside the city, can look forward to?
I’m just getting started on my next book, which I think is going to be more of a love story than I’ve written yet. I’ve got the main characters: an old man who’s had an unhappy marriage who’s just found out he’s terminally ill and is trying to cram decades’ worth of missed opportunities into a few short months; a teenage mom; a recently widowed woman in her 30s trying to re-enter the workforce and a disgraced professional athlete (think Lance Armstrong) trying to figure out his next act. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, or how all those stories will intersect. But that’s who’s shown up so far!
Thurs., June 19, 7:30pm. Central Library, 1901 Vine St. 215.567.4341. freelibrary.org
In Memoriam: Amiri Baraka