The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The four Plumb siblings aren't exactly the most likable group of brothers and sisters. Is their rather despicable, hands-off mother, Francie, to blame? Further, the siblings can't agree on much, either, except how they are all looking forward to the inheritance they've deemed "The Nest." Their late father intended the money to simply be a small sum to help each of his children along late in life (they can't get the money until the youngest turns 40), but the money has been inflated by the stock market and wise investments, and now each sibling is seriously relying on the money in some way. But then, one evening at a wedding, the eldest brother Leo drunkenly gets behind the wheel of his Porsche, a young waitress from the party at his side, and crashes the car. The waitress is badly injured, and the children's mother dips deeply into The Nest to get Leo out of his jam. The other siblings are enraged as they are forced to confront their own financial problems. Melody, the youngest, needs to send her twins to college. Jack, the other brother, has been secretly borrowing against his vacation home, without telling his lawyer husband. And Bea, their sister, hasn't been able to follow up on the success of her early work and finish her novel: she even had to pay back the advance. Leo promises his siblings he will pay them back; but can their wayward older brother be trusted?
This novel received a lot of hype, so of course I avoided reading it for a while. As I was reading it, I thought for quite some time that I'd been duped, as it seemed to be about a bunch of greedy, hateful siblings who cared about nothing but money and appearances. But D'Aprix Sweeney has a deft way with words and somehow, amazingly, this book is compulsively readable and surprisingly enjoyable. After a while, you get to know each Plumb sibling fairly well. While some are pretty despicable (ahem, Leo, ahem), some are just people and parents trying to get by--albeit not always in the most reasonable fashion. I felt the worst for Bea and Melody.
The most interesting part about this novel is that D'Aprix Sweeney doesn't just focus on the four siblings, but she opens up the aperture to include a whole cast of supporting characters, and that is where the novel really shines. Everyone becomes connected somehow, but it doesn't feel trite. We hear from folks in the literary world who work (and love) Bea and Leo, for instance. Leo's love interest (and Bea's editor) Stephanie is my favorite. So while parts of the novel are predictable and I found myself wondering if I cared about any of the Plumbs whatsoever, it's the characters to whom they are connected that are interesting. It takes a talented author to make you want to read a story, even if you don't like the main characters, per se. However, you'll find yourself caught up in the story and wanting to find out what happens. The bonus of extending the characters beyond the four Plumbs is that you get several characters' perspective on an issue or event. In the end, things tie up and together, but again, not too neatly or annoyingly. The ending is perfect somehow--again, a testament to the author's skill.
Overall, the novel surprised me. I honestly usually am not a fan of the spoiled New Yorker novels, but this one was different. It really drew me in. There's a depth and a warmth behind the characters. Definitely worth reading.
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