Review: The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Maturity Level: 5
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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.
It seems to me that readers’ enjoyment of The Nest directly correlated with their expectations. Those with high expectations were inevitably disappointed, while those with low expectations were pleasantly surprised.
Probably because The Nest was only a so-so book.
I went into it with absurdly high expectations. It was one of my most anticipated reads of 2016, but I never got to it as I was completely broke. It managed to transition from the hardcover best-seller list to the soft-cover best-seller list, confirming my expectations that it would be an outstanding read. The jacket promised wit, humor, and everything funny, so I guess I was expected something more similar to Where’d You Go Burnadette. But it wasn’t even a little funny. Unless you find crass and cliche funny. In fact, as soon as I let go of my expectation of humor, I found myself enjoying the book a lot more.
My least favorite things about The Nest was the “main character”, Leo. I don’t know what it is about the 21st century that authors feel so compelled to make their protagonists into complete assholes, but I’m kind of tired of reading it. His brother, Jack, wasn’t much better.
The other characters were a little better, I guess, but I didn’t really care about them. Probably because this book was written from SO MANY DANG PERSPECTIVES. I mean, honestly, I probably can’t even tally them all up if I tried. I would forget some. The POV changes were constant, with probably a good half dozen in the first chapter alone. As the book went on they slowed down, usually giving an entire chapter to a character, which made it feel a little less ADHD. But it was still too many. Sweeney would give chapters to characters that we never saw again outside of that chapter. Like the guy with the prosthetic arm who went to physical therapy with the girl from the accident in the prologue. Who cares?
In fact, there were entire story arcs that seemed completely unnecessary. Like the woman from the accident whose amputation didn’t go well. Or the man who lived downstairs with a stolen 9/11 artifact. Or Bea’s editor who wants to kiss her. And then at the end each of these side-stories are wrapped up with TV sitcom happy endings. It was just, I don’t know, odd. These stories detracted from the main story, and took chapters away from any real character development.
I did like Melody and her twin daughters, Nora and Louise. I related the most to them. I also like Stephanie, Leo’s sort-of love interest. (Incidentally, these were also the only characters that weren’t completely static.) But the rest of the characters were so … meh … for me.
Another problem with The Nest (for me) was that it was sort of a loving ode to New York City. Like Sex and the City. I hate New York. Most of the time I had no idea what Sweeney was talking about, neighborhoods, and brownstones (I recognized THAT when I googled it), DUMBO, NYC stuff. I just, I had no idea what was going on. And I didn’t care. I can’t think of very many places I would like to live (or even visit) less than New York.
However, the novel sort of got better for me as I read. I think as I lowered my expectations the writing and story-telling improved, and the result was an ending that I found pretty heartwarming. The epilogue in particular left me very much saying “awwwwwww!!!!” out loud to my family. And I think that, in the end, as Leo got out of the picture, all of the characters started finding the best versions of themselves in the last 50 pages. I admit that I would be more interested in reading about their post-Nest lives. Melody especially came into her own, which was especially meaningful to me. Sometimes life doesn’t go the way you planned, and you have to re-evaluate what’s important and what isn’t. But that doesn’t mean “everything has gone to shit” and you can’t enjoy your life. After all, loving your kids is the best part of life.
TLDR: Don’t go in with high expectations and you will probably enjoy The Nest. Not funny. Mildly heartwarming. Overall, just so-so.