&Review: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney. Publisher: Ecco March 2016

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Publisher: Ecco March 2016

The Book Itself: A very posh cover – quilted details, monogrammed “P’s” for the Plumb family, the title in what should be a coat of arms. Definitely brings to mind a pedigreed family. Fitting for the story.

My Review: Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems.

Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the future they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives.

This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down. In this tender, entertaining, and deftly written debut, Sweeney brings a remarkable cast of characters to life to illuminate what money does to relationships, what happens to our ambitions over the course of time, and the fraught yet unbreakable ties we share with those we love.

I almost didn’t read The Nest. I was worried that it would be another piece about entitled kids from rich parents at the moments that they realized their lives aren’t set in stone for all eternity. I fell a little bit in cover love with the book, and it was everywhere you looked: on TV, in magazines, on giant posters at the bookstore…

So I gave it a whirl. And while it wasn’t as vacuous and superficial as I feared it would be, it did not stray too far from that often-used trope.

We meet the Plumbs – Leo, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody – I had to look up all of their names again, because there are some plot stumbling blocks that makes the story not about them, but also about the effect they have on other people. This sounds like a good thing, but it also lessens the insight we get into each of the Plumb siblings, who all need more development at the story’s close.

In addition to the Plumbs, we get a grieving widower with a 9/11 connection, one or both of Melody’s twin daughters, occasionally one of the sibling’s romantic partners, and most significantly, Stephanie, Leo’s former flame/perhaps only friend. These perspectives narrate chapters in between the Plumb’s narrations, and it gets distracting. In fact, I could almost say that the story is more about Stephanie than about the Plumb siblings. The book ends on such a strong, life-altering note having to do with Stephanie, that I’m kind of reeling, thinking what did I just read? Is this about the Plumbs, or about the people who know the Plumbs?

The Nest is almost a side-plot. I don’t think we know with absolute certainty what really happens with the money still in the fund. What we really watch is the Plumbs digging themselves more and more into their perspective holes – financially, emotionally, relationship-wise, work-wise, and family-dynamic-wise. And it can be kind of fun/terrible to watch. You know, in the way a crash on the highway causes traffic because everyone is rubber-necking: it’s obnoxious when you’re in the traffic because you’re trying to get where you’re going. But you inevitably rubber-neck too.

The Plumbs are almost universally selfish, naïve, and nearly blind to their own faults while pointing out the faults of others (especially their siblings). The writing is very well done, with chapters zipping by, plot twists carefully laid out, and emotional punches around surprising corners. A dinner party at which the reality of The Nest is revealed to all characters not still in the know is particularly well structured and paced.

But I could eliminate almost all the other chapters from other characters and probably like the novel more, if the extra time were spent on developing and growing the main quartet of Plumbs. By novel’s end, none of them seem to have learned a whole heckuva lot. Leo is perhaps the most deplorable, but I’m not about to spoil anything.

It’s a fast-paced can’t-look-away kind of novel, but we don’t get particularly rounded characters, or even a bottom line on the book’s namesake by story’s end. It’s good, quick summer reading though.

My Grade: C+

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