Book Club: The Nest
The NEst by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
This book made quite the hype when it first came out two years ago. Maybe I'm just a bit of a contrarian but the quickest way to make me not want to do something is by telling me I have to do it. A lot of people told me I had to read this so, of course, I put off reading it for two years. I finally decided to give it a try.
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.
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The book piqued my curiosity, I’m ashamed to say, because of the cover. The pretty colors and the fun font with an interesting description on the back cover had me wanting to read it, but as I had only heard mixed reviews of Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, I decided to wait until it became available to me at the library, instead of spending my own money on it.
Initially, the story seemed just as shallow as the four main characters - Four siblings (the Plumbs), are awaiting a large inheritance that they have taken to calling “The Nest” that they will receive when the youngest sibling (Melody) turns 40 years old. Each has their own reasons for needing their portion to help with their financial troubles. When Leo, the oldest, makes an irresponsible (but very typical for him) decision to get behind the wheel with a young cocktail waitress after a coke-induced high, he gets into a car accident that leaves their mother taking out much of the funds from the Nest to help pay for the damages, hospital bills, and hush-money to the young waitress who ended up as an amputee. The rest of the siblings demand that Leo pay them back once he’s recovered, and the story of Leo’s antics and how it effects the rest of the family moves from there.
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The thing is, as much as I couldn’t relate any member of the Plumb family, I actually didn’t hate the book as much as a lot of the readers on Goodreads did. Sure, the characters are all shallow, spend money in ways I would never think of doing, and deal with a family dynamic that is drastically different from mine, but it was so interesting to see how it all unfolds. Leo, playing fast and loose with others’ money made for an interesting read because even though I hated him as a character as a selfish, too-rich-for-his-own-good, conman-adjacent jerk, his mindset was the most eye-opening for me to read because it is so different from mine. I think the most relatable character was Bea, the third Plumb child, who doesn’t need the inheritance money as desperately as her other siblings. Bea is a writer who may have peaked too early and hasn’t written anything as good since her twenties. She doesn’t spend money she doesn’t have (unlike Jack and Melody), but she is trying to relive her glory days. Jack is a spender but I found a lot of his viewpoints to be incredibly refreshing. He makes lousy borrows money he doesn’t have for a vacation home for himself and his husband, Walker. The catch is that he does this all behind Walker’s back. He knows better but even as he explains his actions, I actually can relate to the “why” even if I can’t relate to the “how.” Melody is in a very similar predicament as he has taken out a second mortgage on her home, without letting her husband Walter know, in order to keep up appearances. She’s worried about sending her twin daughters to college and is desperately trying to fit in with the other rich PTA moms. I found Melody’s story to be the least intriguing as she may be the most shallow of the siblings with absolutely no depth.
I gave this book 3.5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads (rounded up to 4 stars). I do recommend it because the writing is good, even if the characters are not.