I’m going through a grapefruit phase right now. Occasionally I’ll get obsessed with a particular fruit and I just can’t get enough. Right now it’s grapefruits. I eat half of one almost every morning. Sometimes I eat the other half later in the day. I don’t know. I’m just going with it.
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest reminds me of grapefruit. It’s tart, somewhat sweet, and totally juicy. I loved it. It hit many of my bookish buttons right from the start. New York City setting – check. Multiple perspectives, told convincingly – check. Family secrets and lies – check. I didn’t have a lot of reading time when I first began, but once I was halfway through I finished the remainder in one day. (My son was sick, and I stayed home and sat on the couch with him and read while he watched cartoons.) I simultaneously didn’t want it to end and couldn’t stop turning the pages.
The bare bones plot is this: The Plumb siblings, the youngest of whom is soon turning forty, have been counting on “The Nest,” a ridiculously named trust fund that their father set up for them. He intended it not to be something that they counted on to save them from bad decisions, but rather a modest sum that they could add to their retirement funds or help their kids pay for college. Well, what was intended to be modest grew into a sizable sum, and all four kids counted their chickens before they were hatched. Now that the youngest, Melody, is turning forty, they are all in financial trouble and eagerly awaiting their portions of The Nest. The trouble is, the oldest sibling, the charming but feckless brother Leo, has gotten himself into major trouble, and Mama Plumb raids the Nest’s coffers to dig him out (and to shield herself from scandal.)
But this novel is so much bigger than its plot. What I loved most about these characters (and we get to know not just the siblings, but their children, their partners, and their neighbors) is that they all seemed wholly believable to me. They are all very flawed people, but they are not unlikable. Sweeney writes with great empathy for her characters. This family not only doesn’t connect well with one another, but they also don’t really know themselves. And it’s a real treat getting to see how they build (or break) bonds with one another and go on emotional journeys of their own, reckoning with old family patterns and poor choices.
If you enjoy a well-written family saga, if you’re a fan of books like J. Courtney Sullivan’s Maine or The Engagements, or Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, you will probably enjoy The Nest. It’s sharp, smart, funny, and compassionate, and I can’t wait to see what Sweeney writes next. Definitely one of my favorite reads so far this year.