By Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The word “dysfunctional” has been overused in reviews about the fictional Plumb family of this wryly amusing tale. Would that word describe Jane Austen’s Bennet family? No. I think humanly flawed would be a more apt description. Not that this book rivals Austen’s in any way. But this story is a contemporary American take on the British comedy of manners. Or what happens when members of an upper middle-class family aspire to careers that offer artistic fulfillment but little steady income – all in the expectation that an inheritance will take care of their financial needs.
The Nest is the nickname given to the trust fund that the four Plumb siblings will receive when the youngest of them, Melody, turns forty. That’s a few months away when the book begins, but the oldest sibling, Leo, a man-child at forty-six, has involved himself in an expensive divorce precipitated when he left a wedding with a waitress and caused a car crash.
As in the classic British melodrama, the financial needs of the younger siblings are ignored as the nest egg is drained because of the misdeeds of the eldest.
Not that the Great Recession helped. Leo’s sisters and brother are mired in mortgage payments, equity lines of credit, looming college expenses for their offspring, and the fact that the fortune may have been diminished since 2007. This is great social satire with a large cast of characters, all satisfyingly drawn.
How ironic that this debut novel reportedly received a million-dollar advance, when several of its main characters work in the world of New York publishing, described as chaotic and financially unstable.
Like its characters, this book’s author might have toiled for years in obscurity, all in the hopes of a fortune that might or might not happen.
Nope. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was a copywriter who completed an MFA when she was fifty years old, and only four years later published this book to great acclaim. In awe of this writer, I read interviews in which she revealed that she tried writing a novel in her twenties and because she failed at the attempt, put it off while life in the form of family and work got in the way. But there it was, percolating away until the right time came.
Kudos to Sweeney for giving us a delightful romp through her fictional world, and for waiting till she was ready to write it.