The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

thenestTitle: The Nest

Author: Sweeney, Cynthia D’Aprix (Author’s Website)

Genre: Women’s fiction, literary fiction

Bibliographic: Ecco, 368 pages, Hardcover List Price $26.99, Paperback List Price $16.99, Audiobook List Price $23.95, ISBNs 9780062414212, 9780062441652, 9780062414236, 9780062414229, 9780606396622

Publication Date: March 22, 2016

Rating: ★★★★☆/♥♥♥♥♥ (The rating scale is here).

Appeal Factors: Domestic fiction, flawed characters, character-driven, moving, sardonic, compelling

Why I picked it up: I knew I needed to read some women’s fiction for my RA class, and I kept hearing good things about this particular title.

S.I.A.S.: The Plumb siblings have been counting on their inheritance, but one stupid mistake changes everything.

Summary: The Plumb siblings — Leo, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody — have spent their lives knowing that they were going to inherit a significant amount of money on the youngest’s 40th birthday, which they have nicknamed “the nest,” and they’ve all spent their entire adult lives making decisions with the forthcoming windfall in mind. Leo, a drug addict and philanderer, has a large income that he and his wife spend almost as quickly as it comes in (as well as an offshore bank account that only he knows about) and plans to loosen his wife’s grip on his life. Jack, without informing his husband, has been borrowing money against their vacation home to keep his struggling business afloat and is counting on the nest to repay his debts. Bea is a writer who hasn’t written anything for years, and wants to use the nest as a way to jump-start her career. Melody and her husband have been living paycheck to paycheck for decades, and want to use the nest to send their twin daughters to the colleges of their dreams.

One evening, at a family wedding, Leo decides he’d rather do something more interesting. With that goal in mind, he invites one of the waitresses (Matilda Rodriguez) to go for a spin in his fancy car. She agrees to the ride and more, but when Leo suffers a momentary lapse in concentration they are involved in a serious car accident. Matilda is badly injured and will be permanently disabled. To prevent the story from going public, their mother (Francie Plumb) has paid Matilda’s hospital bills and a very generous settlement — which she financed by withdrawing from the nest. With Melody’s birthday drawing ever closer, Jack, Beatrice, and Melody decide to try to make Leo pay back the money — and they are growing increasingly desperate.

Evaluation:  This book is very well-written, and I have to say I enjoyed it more than I expected to. The story unfolds at a nice leisurely pace, and while I didn’t find it particularly compelling (I never had any trouble putting it down) I also found the reading experience itself to be a pleasant one. Most of the characters are fairly well-developed, and I really did find myself sympathizing with most of their problems, which is unusual for me in a book about the very wealthy. I was especially drawn to Melody’s story, since most of her financial woes were caused by her desire to give her children better opportunities. The character I found least sympathetic was Leo, but I think that’s to be expected — he is unrepentant and selfish throughout the book, and unlike the others he fails to learn or grow in any meaningful way. I did really like Leo’s ending, which I think is in line with his character. The minor characters are a mixed bag — Nora and Louisa (and Simone) were interesting, to me, and I liked learning about Walker’s backstory. I would have loved to see more about Matilda and Vinnie adjusting to life as amputees. Tommy, though, didn’t really fit in with the rest of the characters, and seemed to be there more as a plot device than an actual character — with that in mind, the amount of time spent on him was a little much.

The setting wasn’t especially important. This book could easily have been set in DC or Chicago or San Jose or anywhere.

I do think this book will work for a lot of people, and that it would probably be very successful if marketed as a “beach read.” I think that the title was perfect. I was a little confused at first, but after reading the book I really do think “the nest” was the most important character, in a way.

Significance: This is the author’s first novel, and it’s been generating a lot of buzz. I first heard about it because Ellie Kemper selected it for the Book of the Month Club, which I thought was kind of a big deal.

Readalikes: Before You Know Kindness, by Chris Bohjalian. The Children’s Crusade, by Ann Packer. A Perfectly Good Family, by Lionel Shriver.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Which of the four Plumb siblings did you sympathize with the most? The least? Can you see yourself making any of the same decisions, if you were in their shoes?
  2. What would you do differently in your life if you knew you were going to receive a large amount of money in the future?
  3. Were you surprised by how thoroughly the Plumbs embraced Stephanie and Lila? Why did Stephanie want to join such a dysfunctional family?
  4. Do you think any of the siblings were justified in their belief that they needed and deserved their share of the nest the most? Which one? Which one deserved it least?
  5. Talk about Stephanie, Walker, Paul, and Walter and the roles they play in the Plumb family. How did the looming prospect of the nest change their respective decisions?

Lists and Awards: LibraryReads Favorites: 2016.

Professional Reviews: Kirkus. Publishers Weekly. New York Times. Washington Post. Guardian Books.

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