Review: The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

nestAbout The Nest

• Hardcover: 368 pages
• Audio: 11 hours
• Published: March 2016 by Ecco
• Source: Purchased (Audible Audiobooks)

Goodreads DescriptionA warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.

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.

My Thoughts

The Nest is a book about unlikable characters. It introduces us to the Plumbs – privileged siblings on the brink of losing everything. They’re set to inherit their father’s money, which has been locked in a trust for years – except, one of the siblings, Leo, has to go and screw everything up. All of a sudden, there’s not much money in the nest egg (i.e., the nest), and all the plans each sibling has rested on the money are called into question.

I was really excited to read The Nest when it came out. After all, it sounded just like it had the kind of horribly awful yet endearing characters Emma Straub writes about….characters who are so terrible, yet so human, you can’t cast them aside. Characters you may not like, but who you can identify with, even as you think, “I’d never do that.” (Yes, yes you would. It’s ok.)

Sadly, that wasn’t the case with The Nest. 

I listened to about a third of the story before admitting to myself that I just didn’t care about the Plumbs. None of them. Sure, I could have finished the audio book – after all, I’d invested a fair amount of time already. But why? Did I need or want to know whether the Plumb siblings got their money, whether they all ended up hating each other, or whether all was forgiven in the name of family? No, actually. I didn’t – and still don’t – give a damn.

I think therein lies the difference in The Nest and in either of Emma Straub’s novels – The Vacationers or Modern Lovers. In both, Straub creates characters with next to no redeeming qualities. They’re self-centered, pathetic, pitiful characters….but Straub presents them in a way that makes them likable. You want to hope for them, cheer for them, find out what happens to them. The characters in The Nest don’t quite hit the mark in that regard – whether that’s the story or the qualities they do and don’t possess, the Plumbs just weren’t characters I cared anything about.

I imagine it’s incredibly difficult to create a character so flawed and horrible that your readers still want to root for, so I’m not knocking Sweeney’s novel. I think there’s promise there, and I hope she tries again. I’d give her another shot, even if The Nest fell slightly short for me….because I think if she can work out the kinks, she’ll be one of a handful who can write this type of story incredibly well.

2 stars