Leonard was, and this was quite literally how he thought of himself several times a day, a self-made man. It was the organizing principle of his life that money and its concurrent rewards should flow from work, effort, commitment, and routine. At one time, the Plumbs of Eastern Long Island had family money and a decent amount of real estate. Decades of behavioral blunders and ill-conceived marriages and businesses run amok had left next to nothing by the time Leonard was in high school. He’d wangled himself an engineering scholarship to Cornell and then a job with Dow Chemical during a time he referred to reverently as “the dawn of the absorbency revolution”. Leonard had lucked onto a team working with a new substance: synthetic polymers that could absorb three hundred times more liquid than conventional organic absorbents like paper and cotton. As his colleagues set to work identifying potential uses for the new super-absorbers – agriculture, industrial processing, architecture, military applications – Leonard seized on something else: consumer products. According to Leonard’s oft-repeated legend, the business he and his two partners started – advising larger corporations on how to use the new absorbers – was nearly solely responsible for daintier feminine hygiene products (which he never failed to mention in mixed company, mortifying his children), better disposable diapers (his proudest accomplishment – he’d spent a small fortune on a diaper service when the first three were babies), and the quilted square of revolting plastic that still sits beneath every piece of slaughtered meat or poultry in the supermarket. He was not above rooting through the garbage at a dinner party and hoisting the discarded square triumphantly, saying “Mine!”
–The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
The Nest is a novel about four adult siblings – Leo, Jack, Melody, and Beatrice – who have been eagerly awaiting the distribution of a trust left them by their deceased father, when Leo’s drunken car crash costs the family nearly all of their $2 million funds. Each sibling had depended on the trust to save them from their own poor financial decisions, and after Leo’s troubles with drugs and alcohol lead to a wreck that damages his reputation, injures a young woman, and threatens to embarrass the siblings’ mother and stepfather, the family finds themselves with a dramatically less fund than they had expected. The story follows each sibling as they come to terms with their new realities, and the relationships that grow and dissolve following the accident.
This novel is undoubtedly a character-driven novel, rather than relying heavily on plot, and in that way it performs spectacularly. Leo is someone two-dimensional: he lives for himself, making poor decisions when it suits him, and cares little about the consequences as long as he feels he can escape them. In this way, however, he serves as somewhat of a foil for the rest of the characters. Melody, the mother of twin teenage girls, wants mostly to build a legacy for herself and her children, but also clearly longs for a deep relationship with her daughters. Beatrice is the youngest of the siblings, in her thirties still, and after publishing a number of successful short stories in her youth, feels as though her inspiration has dried, as she tries to write a novel worth selling. Jack is by far the most dynamic of the siblings: he finds himself sandwiched between Leo and the rest. After a number of unsuccessful years with his antiques business, Jack has borrowed money against he and his husband’s beach house, and he has desperately tried to keep this secret from his husband, but without the nest, he knows that his secret will come out. Jack makes poor decisions frequently and tries to protect himself, but unlike Leo, Jack still wants what is best for others. He wants to protect his husband, he cares deeply for his siblings and is far more willing to stop and try to help them, and unlike Leo, Jack is deeply aware of his own faults. He considers himself to be “Leo light”, and hates his growing failures, but by the end of the novel, Jack shows a willingness to give up the things that are holding him back.
The timing of the plot of the novel felt a little stretched to me, and I suppose that would be my biggest complaint. It takes place over a year and a half, but it was easy to lose track of how much time had passed, and I often was surprised by the time jumps between sections and chapters. By the end of the novel I certainly understood why so much time had to pass for the plot to resolve, but it still sometimes took me out of the reading when I realized that months passed in the characters’ lives with very little happening.
I have to admit that I was a little disappointed initially when I found out that The Nest takes place in New York – so many novels do, these days, and I was afraid it would feel artificial. This novel, though, absolutely did not. Given the subject matter, a good deal of attention was paid to neighborhoods and homes and mortgages, and I loved the focus this placed on real estate and setting. New York especially has such an interesting history, and I really enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the neighborhoods, as we saw some of them progress from “lower class” to “upper class”.
In all, I would rate The Nest an 8 out of 10. The characterization was fantastic and I really enjoyed the details given in the setting. I feel like readers of most genres would enjoy this relatively quick read.