Many Columbia seniors will be able to relate to the problem described in the first novel by Brooklyn author Leigh Stein, who will be holding a reading next week in Butler Library. “The Fallback Plan” delves into the classic post-graduation nightmare. Esther Kohler moves back home to the Chicago suburbs after graduating from Northwestern to indulge in a freewheeling lifestyle that entails relaxing on the couch and rereading children’s books with no long-term plans at her parents’ behest. Struggling with depression, Esther considers her role as a slacker a welcome alternative to “suffering the rancid fate of a nomadic couchsurfer.” As a directionless character who never fails to confront the daily hijinks and unpleasant truths of her babysitting job with a snarky wit, Esther has struck a chord in many readers. “I think a lot of people are relating to Esther because Esther is in this kind of limbo between her adult life and her childhood,” Stein said in an interview. Inspired by the melancholy afflicting many jobless recent college graduates, “The Fallback Plan” is in part Stein’s reassuring response. “I think a lot of people work really hard and they’re really ambitious and go to good schools and get good grades and then when they finish, there’s this kind of lethargy and unhappiness that you can’t find work right away, and I think that’s totally normal and it shouldn’t be something that you should be ashamed of,” Stein said. Beginning her writing career as a poet—amongst a series of other jobs such as being a New Yorker staffer, drama teacher, and actress—Stein considers the completion of “The Fallback Plan” as her induction into being a “real writer.” “I just wanted to write a longer work and it’s actually really enjoyable, I find, to spend so much time with characters that you like,” Stein said. Writing the book at the age of 22, the same age as Esther, Stein gave Esther a personal touch, incorporating her nostalgia for childhood freedoms as well as her past struggle with depression. Drawing from her experience of the difficulty of expressing the pain of depression, Stein highlights Esther’s mental escapism. “Esther is having a hard time with [depression] and fantasizes about being disabled,” Stein said. “She wants people to know how bad she feels on the inside, but she’s unable to express that.” Because of the broad relevance of Esther’s character, Stein insisted on preserving a diverse audience by avoiding any stereotypical chick-lit covers. “Chick-lit is like this ghetto that excludes male readers—it’s just for women … I wanted to resist being classified so early in my career,” Stein said. The reading and Q&A with Stein will take place in Butler 203 on Tuesday, April 17 at 5:30 p.m. firstname.lastname@example.org
Four seniors reflect on their time at Columbia, and what it means to be leaving these years—and NYC—behind.