From the opening scene, where married Leo Plumb shamelessly flirts with a nineteen year old Spanish waitress at a beach party in Long Island, and entices her into his Porsche, you know it’s not going to end well. And sure enough, high on cocaine, martini cocktails and distracted by Matilda attending to him in more ways than one, an SUV ploughs into them. The luckless waitress ends up having to have her foot amputated, Leo has to spends months in rehab. It’s a great inciting incident that starts the novel off with a literal bang.
The Nest of the title refers to a trust fund set up by the Plumb family’s late father, which was only ever intended to be a modest sum, to just ease the pressure off his four children. It will only pay out when the youngest, Melody, turns 40. But, thanks to the stock market, its value has rocketed and now each of the four siblings is relying on it: it has become the crutch, the fall back, the be all and end all to all their many problems.
Melody, living in upstate New York, is overstretched on her mortgage, maxed out on her credit cards, and needs money for future tuition fees for her twin teenage daughters, Nora and Louisa. Obsessed with knowing where they are at all times, she keeps virtual tabs on them by tracking their phones. When she sees the blue blinking light moving around The American Museum of Natural History, she thinks all is well when in fact they are getting up to all sorts. Then there’s Jack married to husband Walker (he invited none of his family) who, after the crash of 2008, has had to secretly borrow against the value of their shared beach front property which may in turn jeopardise Walker’s business. Then there’s Bea – who has gained some success as a writer of short stories (although mostly off the back of Leo) waiting to hit the big rime with a novel that constantly eludes her.
The car accident means that the nest is severely depleted as Leo has had to pay out compensation to hush it up, and for a newly adapted apartment for the waitress. The remaining three siblings have seen the nest dwindle before their eyes and now want Leo to pay back what he owes them. Tensions and long held resentments. already barely disguised, break out and erupt.
Although none of them are particularly likeable, especially the reckless Leo, the others do rally and forge alliances in unexpected ways. I like the promotional video that is being used to market the book here where siblings talk about their relationships and what impact your place or birth order in your family can have.
The author, who lived in New York for over two decades, has a very clever, blackly comic touch – I’m sure I didn’t get many of the references and in jokes about particular parts of New York and colleges etc. The Plumbs are a certain rare set of people, although you can find their equivalent here of course. It’s fun to gawp at them through the windows of The Oyster Bar at Grand Central – whether you’d want to be one of them, is a whole different matter.
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is out today in the UK published by Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins. Thanks to them via NetGalley for my review copy. Photos from my last trip including some of the places that feature in the book.