|Author:||Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney|
“Everyone’s always on the hunt for a mirror. It’s basic psychology. You want to see yourself reflected in others. Others – your sister, your parents – they want to look at you and see themselves. They want you to be a flattering reflection of them- and vice-versa.”
Meandering through The Nest is similar to the experience of wandering through the delights of an antique furniture store. Some of the items are full of beauty and you just know they would look delightful in your home, whilst other trinkets seem to pass you by, until you have a closer look that is… More than anything else I felt as though reading this novel was an experience that is best repeated several times over in order to find all those little gems of sentences that remain hidden within this rather vast array of characters and side plots. This is in no way a bad thing. It simply allows for a more in depth reading experience and I do believe that this novel is one of those that deserve a second glance if you are not entirely convinced the first time around. Trust me, there are sentences that will remain with you for a very long time.
The story begins with a horrific accident involving the rebellious member of the Plumb family, Leo, who makes a bad decision one night that will affect the rest of his life, including his relationship with his siblings. The Plumb siblings are all grown up and living in Manhattan, New York, and each in his or her own way have been living their lives impatiently waiting for the youngest, Melody to turn forty. On her fortieth birthday the Plumbs are all meant to inherit a sum of money left to them by their father Leonard Plum, and it is this particular sum of money that gives the novel its name as for years the siblings have affectionately referred to it as ‘the nest’. Leo’s accident however has put the future of ‘the nest’ at risk and the Plumb siblings are not too happy.
I digress. Let’s meet the Plumbs shall we? First up we have Leo, whom we are already aware is a bit of a loose cannon. His accident that involved a 19 year old waitress named Matilda has cost him his sibling’s inheritance, but his reputation was lost a while ago. He once created and owned a reputable literary magazine called SpeakEasy but his addiction to drugs and alcohol, as well as a failed marriage, have left Leo less than capable of paying his siblings back.
Melody, the youngest, has created an almost ‘apple pie’ existence, including the happy husband, the beloved family home and twin daughters Nora and Louisa. Melody was relying on ‘the nest’ to get her kids into good colleges.
Jack is the gay brother whose marriage to his husband Walker was kept a secret from his family. His ambition is not necessarily his best quality as it more than often leads him to walk that very fine morality line. He owns an antique store, and even though he loves Walker his contentment with solitude is inspiring. It might just be that Jack is more in love with success than he is with the idea of another person.
Beatrice ‘Bea’ is the sibling that marches to the beat of her own multi colored drum. She is the writer in the family who was once a part of an elite group of female Manhattan writers known as ‘The Glitterary”. At the time of her fame she was writing well-received stories about a character called Archie who was loosely based on her brother Leo. Beatrice was and still is far too down-to-earth for the Manhattan society she found herself exposed to. In the midst of it all her lover, a much older married man suffered a fatal stroke and she has not written anything worthy since. She now spends her days doing admin work for another literary magazine called Paper Fibres after Leo’s SpeakEasy went under.
As we are introduced to the siblings it becomes increasingly obvious that they are not necessarily the star of the show. As we metaphorically dig through the closets and drawers of their lives we meet a host of other characters along the way that insert just as much magic to this story as the Plumbs do.
First up is aspiring singer Matilda whose involvement with Leo one terrible night would cost her more than just her job as a waitress at a fancy event.
Stephanie is probably the star of this whole production, and I say this because she seems to be the proverbial ‘glue’ keeping everyone together, even managing to keep the relentless Plumbs from fighting all the time. Stephanie, who was once long ago involved with Leo, is a literary agent, who used to represent Bea and her Archie stories. After the accident and a stint in rehab, Leo has nowhere else to go and ends up back with Stephanie, who cares for Leo but doesn’t necessarily want her solitude taken away from her.
Tommy is Stephanie’s lower level tenant who also lives alone. His wife died at the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, and inside his apartment the still grieving widower is harboring a secret that could possibly get him into a lot of trouble, but sometimes love is stronger than consequence.
Other notable characters include the ever-positive Vinnie who befriends and unofficially counsels Matilda after the accident, Melody’s twin daughters who are trying to navigate life and understand their complex family and Paul Underwood who started Paper Fibres and is very much in love with Beatrice Plumb.
Despite all of the arguments and the grief and the confusion among the characters it is ultimately family (and whatever that means) and love that keeps them all connected – it is not the illusive ‘Nest’. In fact it is Walker, Jack’s husband who puts it into a little perspective:
“Aside from being infantile, he couldn’t fathom how a group of adults could use that term in apparent earnestness and never even 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”.
As so it is not for us to choose an ending for the Plumb family, though each in his or her own way finds peace and contentment in something other than what they once thought would save them all. It is simply up to the reader to sift through the gems and the junk and find satisfaction in the pure magic of a well-written novel.