The Fallback Plan is the story of Esther, a recent college graduate who moves back home only to be thrown into a world of heavy introspection and disappointing adults—chief among them Amy and Nate, the parents of the child for whom she babysits, who waste no time reeling her into their family drama. Leigh Stein‘s debut novel intrigued us so much that we had to bring her in for questioning. Stein, a published poet and former New Yorker staff member, has had all manner of jobs, from public school teacher to Snow White impersonator to googler of baby pandas (it’s research). Stay tuned for more exclusive photos from our shoot with Leigh, as well as more interview tidbits in the weeks to come.
BULLETT: Being where we are economically at this time, you have to look at children with this kind of pity, as though everything’s not going to be quite right for them, the way it’s not quite right for us.
LEIGH STEIN: I have a sister who’s eight years younger than me, and when I was in high school I used to be like, Don’t grow up, promise me, because I didn’t want her to go through adolescence as I was going through it. I wanted to protect her from growing up. It is pity—I’m like, You’re gonna be fucked later.
Exactly. Like, how do you communicate that?
But is it our job to communicate that? Or is it our job to let them have a childhood?
There’s a sense that you’re going to realize at a certain point that you’re not going to get to do what you want to do, and that’s a bit… devastating.
I never became an Olympic gymnast, for example.
As much as I wanted it.
It’s really rough.
“I’M A CREATIVE PERSON”
Our generation also doesn’t like to admit that we’re not doing what we want, like, “I’m an artist, but I don’t do art.” That kind of thing.
“I’m a ‘creative person.'”
Exactly! When people say that, I tend to be like, Eww, but I understand why you would want to believe that you don’t just work at…
Like, “No, I’m creative. At heart. Inside.” But do you think older people are more whiny than older people?
Yeah, I do. I think so. I think we’re whinier.
Why do you think we’re whinier?
I think at our age, we’re very self-absorbed, and we grew up on Facebook and we feel like our personal problems are public: “I flunked this test,” or “I have to work late, it blows!” We can complain all the time and our friends are right there to receive our complaints. Whether we’re texting them, or posting on Facebook, or we’re calling them. There’s always an outlet for us to complain. Even if we’re at home, even if we’re in private, we can still complain. And I think we’ll grow out of it. I don’t think we’re going to be The Whiny Generation forever. I think it’s just a product of our age.
It’s like a call and response. Eventually, you’re going to have somebody be like—
“Chin up, buttercup!”
But then I also feel like our parents are super-whiny, like when you’re talking with an older person and they’re like, “Ha! I spoke seven languages by the time I was your age.” Do you ever get that?
No, I don’t.
Maybe I’m just around terrible older people.
You think that’s whining though?
Sort of. Because it’s whiny disapproval, like, “The caliber of education has really come down a notch because we used to be learning seven languages.”
Like, “You don’t learn Latin anymore? What’s wrong with you!” Maybe I’m lucky, but my parents knew that I was going to do my own thing whether they liked it or not. I don’t remember having a lot of, “You should do this,” or, “You should do that.” I was like, I’m going to do this, and then I would just do it. And that’s just how I ran my life from childhood: I’m going to write a newsletter about Saddam Hussein and you’re going to publish it for me.