By Allyson Vaughan
Family dynamics, more often than not their dysfunctional dynamics, make for tantalizing fiction. And that theory proves no less true than in The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. The novel follows the Plumb family, more specifically the four Plumb siblings. Readers meet Leo Plumb under the most dire of circumstances, seducing a young, naive waitress at an upscale party. Leo Plumb: misleading, falsifying, and capable of stirring hope without cause that he can triumph over his mistakes. He cons the reader as he does his siblings after the ill-fated car ride with the waitress leads to a crash that pulls the rug out of not just Leo’s life, but all of his siblings, when the waitress loses her leg from the accident. Leo’s siblings take up a majority of the narrative. With the whip-smart, but creatively blocked Beatrice Plumb, a writer, a sister, and former worshiper of Leo Plumb’s charisma, the reader is softened to Leo. With Jack, the resourceful but desperate younger brother, the reader is wizened to Leo’s antics and deceits, even if Jack is often blind to his own. And finally, with Melody, the youngest of the Plumb’s, the reader is shown the greed and self-involvement that plagues all of the Plumb family.The narrative and its characters revolve unwillingly around Leo.
Much of the Plumb’s crisis comes from the night of the crash. After silencing the victim and her family, the inheritance left by their father referred to as “The Nest” by the children is cut down when their estranged mother uses it to cover Leo’s mistakes. All of the Plumbs relied on the inheritance to fix their personal mistakes and financial cockiness. And the reader may be surprised to find out that the Plumb “children” are in their forties, and by now should know better than to count on what they cannot see. Each of the Plumb’s is a fully unique and defined character. Sweeney orchestrates each main character with precision and care, as well as her minor characters. So much of the novel’s strengths are to be found in her characterization, and how snuggly they all fit into the setting of upper class New York. Privileged, spoiled, assuming, and in many ways rotten, the Plumbs are still likable for their failed humanity. Sweeney makes it possible to dislike and love all the Plumbs, while weaving in subplots with the minor characters that make them equally essential.
The style of Sweeney’s writing is clear and steady, keeping pace with the plot and rarely dragging. Each chapter, even those that at the time seem unnecessary, are expertly contrived to be of importance to the overall story. Sweeney wastes no words, no space, and none of her reader’s time. Sweeney’s novel is at time acutely revealing to the nature of sibling rivalry, family, money, sex, and moving on despite those things in order to find fulfillment. And at other times, the novel is just damn funny in the most realistic, human of ways. Such as a moment when Leo, fresh out of rehab, goes to the park to buy drugs and falls clear on his bottom while his nieces, skipping their SAT workshop, cower behind a tree to watch the Uncle they’ve only heard of scramble back up. The Nest is enjoyable, funny, whip smart, and insightful. At worst, the novel’s ending leaves some dissatisfaction, but not at any cost of Sweeney’s talent. Unsatisfying because Sweeney captures in the ending, as well as throughout the novel, human nature’s propensity to adjusting and moving forward despite the let-downs of those we love.