‘The Nest,’ Cynthia d’Aprix Sweeney’s first novel, is terrific. Meet the Plumbs – a wildly dysfunctional family on the verge of collapse.
The book begins as handsome, successful, and totally wasted older brother Leo crashes his Porsche with a teen-aged waitress as his passenger. The waitress loses a foot – and “ The Nest,” the Plumb siblings’ joint – as yet untouched – trust fund is pretty much plumb empty. Francie, the Plumb matriarch had raided it to pay off the waitress and salvage Leo’s reputation.
The four grown Plumb children have been eagerly awaiting the day when the funds would be dispersed. Melody — whose fortieth birthday was to be the day when all could access The Nest — has already earmarked her share for college tuition and home improvements. Jack would like to pay off a home equity loan before his husband finds out about it. Beatrice, a once successful writer, has less need of the money, but is struggling to recapture her voice.
The siblings meet at the Grand Central Oyster Bar to confront Leo shortly after his release from rehab. Each of them faces the reunion with concerns.
“Bea worried today’s lunch was gong to be confrontational. Jack and Melody were becoming increasingly unhinged about the situation with The Nest and she assumed they were both coming prepared to stake out their respective plots of neediness. What Bea needed from Leo was not her primary concern. Today, she wanted to keep her ordinarily disagreeable siblings somewhat agreeable, if only for one afternoon, just long enough to get Lo to – well, she didn’t know what exactly. Put some kind of plan in place that would placate Jack and Melody for a bit and give Leo enough breathing room so that he wouldn’t completely shut them down – or flee.”
Jack’s lawyer husband Walker and Stephanie, an ex-lover Jack moves in with as his post-rehab life collapses, provide bracing relief to the monumental dysfunction of the family Plumb.
“[Walker’d] been itching to get them all together in one room and try to make a tiny inroad into facilitating some kind of agreement about the infernal sum of money they still insisted on calling The Nest, which drove Walker mad. Aside from being infantile, he couldn’t fathom how a group of adults could use that term in apparent earnestness and never casually contemplate the twisted metaphor of the thing, and how it related to their dysfunctional behavior as individuals and a group. Just one of many things about the Plumb family he’d stopped trying to understand.”
Yet with the exception of their awful – but nonetheless entertaining mother Francie – the Plumbs are not without charms. Their financial woes are convincing. Their desires to dive into The Nest are never mean-spirited. “The Nest” zips along as the Plumbs learn to redefine what it really means to be a family. Thanks to Sweeney’s skill as a writer, readers will ultimately share her deep affection for the siblings who face the probability of confronting middle age without The Nest.
“The Nest” is available at amazon.com and at your favorite New York bookstores