One Pill Makes You Smaller

A Novel

Lisa Dierbeck

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

A brilliantly original novel of the 1970s counterculture

Alice Duncan is an eleven-year-old girl who looks so much like a grown woman, she attracts the attention of adult men. Abandoned by her mother and neglected by her father who has checked himself into a mental asylum, Alice and her sixteen year old Aunt Esme live on their own in an Upper East Side townhouse, entertaining teenage boys, shoplifting at department stores, and dining on cookies and pizza--until Esme decides to fly off to L.A. with a singer in a punk rock band. Alice, left to her own devices, travels by bus to North Carolina to attend the Balthus Institute, a shadowy art school for gifted children. While Alice is being groomed to become an artist, she meets a wheelchair bound photographer of broken dolls, a queenly French surrealist sculptor, a pair of twins who are child prodigies, and a charming, sinister character known only as "J.D." A hedonistic drug dealer who is equal parts criminal and prankster, J.D. slowly inducts Alice into an outlaw counterculture. They form a dangerous friendship.

Inspired by Alice in Wonderland, One Pill Makes You Smaller is the story of a young girl forced to navigate a bewildering adult world where morality is turned upside down. Set in the permissive seventies and suffused with the atmosphere of that reckless time, the novel portrays a young girl's unwilling tumble toward adulthood and exposes the darker corners of America's past.


Read an Excerpt

One Pill Makes You Smaller
Of Love and Squalor“You’re so fucking pretty, Alice,” said Rabbit. “Why are you so completely gorgeous? Huh?”Alice didn’t answer him. Silence, she’d found, was the best response. Rabbit was lying on Aunt Esmé’s bed with his dirty motorcycle boots propped up against the wall. His narrow pointy face was upside down: his head was hanging off the end of the mattress where his feet were supposed to be. His long hair fanned out underneath him, spilling over the bedspread until the ragged ends brushed the shag carpeting


Praise for One Pill Makes You Smaller

"What a strange and extraordinary journey through a looking glass darkly is Lisa Dierbeck's novel. By turns terrifying, funny, sinister, and it must be sheepishly admitted, titillating, Dierbeck has a photograper's eye for detail and a poet's heart for language. Read this book."
--David Rakoff, author of Fraud

"Written in exuberant, gorgeous, and propulsive prose, Lisa Dierbeck's novel is impossible to put down. Her characters leap off the page with raw, anarchic chemistry; her dialogue crackles with electricity. Alice's odyssey through a dark wilderness of the soul becomes a celebration of art, our flawed humanity, and life."
--Lauren Slater, author of Prozac Diary.

"Lisa Dierbeck's wildly original vision is a miraculous fusion of dizzy confabulation and all too real grit and danger. Her sharp, vulnerable Alice is one of the most delightfully surprising heroines I've met in contemporary fiction. The deepest pleasures of One Pill Makes You Smaller come from love and language, from the thrill of discovery, from Ms. Dierbeck's passion for her people as she leads us into their magical, furious, twisting tales."
--Melanie Rae Thon, author of Sweet Hearts

"One Pill Makes You Smaller is a mordantly funny, intelligent and accurate look at one girl's experience growing up. Alice's experiences are miserable, harrowing, illuminating and wonderful, and fortunately for the reader, Dierbeck allows her character the intelligence and breadth to have them all."
-- Mary Gaitskill, author of Two Girls Fat and Thin and Bad Behavior

"This book is both an intensely individual story of sexual awakening and betrayal, as well as a kaleidoscopic portrait of the historical milieu in which that betrayal occurs. Her writing here is intense yet restrained, deeply empathic but never melodramatic, unflinching in its moral purview without sermonizing; that it is often unsettling and just as often slyly comic is a testament to her rigorous control over her material. I have been following Lisa’s career as a short-story writer for the past couple of years, and I see in this novel all of the various fine s20qualities I’ve seen in those stories. It is a wholly original work of fiction, and marks the auspicious debut of a distinct and important perspective in American letters."
--Dale Peck, author of the forthcoming What We Lost

"Lisa Dierbeck’s debut novel, One Pill Makes You Smaller, exposes the two opposing forces-puritanism and hedonism-that have shaped American society. Its 11-year-old protagonist, Alice, is an unforgettable creation with important insights into human nature. Not yet adult, but no longer a child, Alice expands and shrinks in other people’s eyes. As shocking as Lolita, told with unflinching honesty, One Pill Makes You Smaller is a powerful, deft novel that is likely to stir controversy."
--Pagan Kennedy, author of Black Livingstone

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Lisa Dierbeck

  • Lisa Dierbeck lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband. One Pill Makes You Smaller is her debut novel.




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One Pill Makes You Smaller

A Novel

Lisa Dierbeck



Farrar, Straus and Giroux