Will Byrnes's Reviews > The Nest

The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney
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it was amazing
bookshelves: books-of-the-year-2016, brooklyn, fiction, nyc, new-york-city

He hesitated. Above him, an ear-splitting screech. He looked up to see three enormous crows, perched on the bare branches of one of the few trees that had already dropped its leaves. They were all squawking at once, as if they were arguing about his next move. Directly beneath, in the midst of the stark and barren branches and at the base of a forked limb, a mud-brown leafy mass. A nest. Jesus.

Leo checked the time and started walking.
When Leo Plumb, 46, and very unhappily married, enjoying the benefits of booze, cocaine, and Welbutrin, picks up 19-year-old waitress, Matilda Rodriguez, at a wedding, it’s business as usual. But the joys of the moment come to a crashing halt when the Porsche in which Leo is spiriting her away, the car in which she is putting her hand to good use, is T-boned by an SUV, and Matilda is seriously injured. It’s gonna take mucho dinero to put the lid on this one.

I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first? Good news? OK. The good news, for Leo anyway, is that there is a considerable family inheritance left by his late father, which can be raided for emergencies. Staying out of jail counts, so how much should we make this check out for? The bad news is that the inheritance was intended for four siblings and Leo’s indiscretion has slashed the total considerably. They are very interested in knowing when Leo is going to re-feather the nest he had just raided like a raccoon in the night.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney - From her Twitter pages

Leo Tolstoy famously said All happy families resemble each other, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. The Plumb family is unhappy in diverse ways. Sweeney measures their depths. The family refers to their inheritance as The Nest, and their relationship to it, with Leo’s raiding of it, constitutes the core around which this family tale is woven. His charm and skill at manipulation will not be enough to get Leo out of this mess. He may have bought his way out of a jail sentence, but he still needs to come up with some serious cash to make The Nest whole again. He hasn’t exactly been working in the many years since he sold his on-line media business. And there is his bitch of a trophy wife to keep up. She is very fond of spending.

The Plumbs, despite their father’s financial success, are not wildly wealthy. Melody, nearing 40, is a suburban housewife, struggling to make ends meet in a place where she is very much on the lower economic rungs. She has twin daughters on the verge of college and could really use the money she has been expecting. Beatrice had some success as a writer years ago, but it has been a long time since she produced any writing of quality. She lives in an Upper West Side apartment, a love nest given to her by a late lover, which ain’t nuthin’, especially in NYC, but it’s not like she can sit home and clip coupons either. She has remained in a low-end job long after she should have grown to something more. Finally, Jack has been in a couple with Walker for many years. He runs an antiques shop that specializes in losing money. Walker is the breadwinner of the pair, but Jack would like to be depositing instead of constantly withdrawing. He is in debt up to his eyeballs. The potential absence of his bailout money from The Nest is a blow, so when a shady opportunity presents itself, he has to decide where he is willing to draw the line.

In this ensemble cast, we follow the siblings, along with a smattering of others, through their travails, and see them come to grips, or not, with the possible loss of a nest egg they had all been counting on for a long time. The issues they face are not merely how to cope with a cash flow shortfall. Sweeney has larger targets in her sights. The characters here are faced with moral choices. How would you have managed, given the situation? How would any of us? It is certainly the case, for all but the most blessed (and we hate them) that our hopes and dreams for this or that, whether a relationship, a career direction, parenthood, something, go all to hell. Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Which is nice if you are fond of aphorisms. Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us leaves us frightened, damaged, and scarred. (I mean, they don't call it Post Traumatic Stress Improvement, do they?) Sometimes it can open a door to a new appreciation, offer a new path, uncover an unseen possibility. Or it closes all available doors, locks the windows and drops a match on a kerosene covered floor. I’m just sayin’. Two paths, at least for each of the sibs. Which will they take? What sorts of people do they want to be? And how will they emerge, battered or better?

In addition to the choices having to do with facing up to identity crises, and coping with losses real or theoretical, there are some other items here that are very well handled. Sweeney has painted a portrait of some elements of NYC at a particular place and time. These include a bit of a look at the local literary scene, whether one is doing well or struggling, in on the dot.com or killed by it, mean Glitterary Girl or faded sparkle. Authors, wannabes, publishers of paper and on-line magazines, trip through the pages. Some are more about appearance than substance.
She’d been hiding in a corner of Celia’s enormous living room, pretending to examine the bookshelves, which were full of what she thought of as “fake” books—the books were real enough but if Celia Baxter had read Thomas Pynchon or Samuel Beckett or even all—any!—of the Philip Roths and Saul Bellows lined in a row, she’d eat her mittens. In a far upper corner of the bookcase, she noticed a lurid purple book spine, a celebrity weight-loss book. Ha. That was more like it. She stood on tiptoe, slid the book out, and examined the well-thumbed, stained pages. She returned it to shelf front and center, between Mythologies and Cloud Atlas.
There is a walk through several places in the city, each offering a taste. The Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station, a brownstone in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, a bit of Central Park, a Westchester suburb. 9/11 is a part of the story as well, as is, although to a lesser degree, the insanity that is the NY real estate market.

The Nest is, ultimately, about stepping off the edge of safety into the air, and either finding out you can fly or flapping uselessly to a sudden end. And, of course, considering whether or not to simply hitch a ride on a passing pigeon.

None of it would mean a lick if the characters were merely raucous chicks, lobbying for the next worm. Sweeney has put together more of an aviary, with each main member of her ensemble fully feathered and flight-worthy. Even a teen-age twin must consider separating from the intense co-nesting of sisterhood, and finding her own flight path. While not all the main characters are people you would care to know, they are all fully realized. Hell, even some of the secondary characters are presented in 3D. Their motivations and actions make sense, whether you agree or not with their decisions. There is nuance and depth even to the more morally challenged. I expect that you will find situations and/or conditions in here that resonate with challenges and decisions you have faced in your own life. The economic downturn has hit many of us, even if we need not look to our own reckless personal behavior as a cause. No need to wonder how most of us will behave when faced with some of the problems raised here. We have already adjusted our expectations. But there is value in seeing how others react.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s last book was slightly different from this one, Country Living Easy Transformations: Kitchen With this book. Sweeney takes a step into the open air of literary accomplishment. She has spread her wings and caught a rising thermal. The Nest has not only succeeded in feathering Sweeney’s nest quite nicely, it offers a smart, funny, engaging, and insightful read that will accommodate your peepers quite nicely, and is sure to settle comfortably in many top ten nests lists when those finally begin appearing.

Review posted – 11/27/15

Publication date – 3/22/16

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s Twitter and FB pages

Please do check out Ron Charles's review in the Washington Post

Thanks to GR friend Christine who, in comment #24, let us know that Sweeney did an interview with Seth Meyers. I am not sure how long it will be available, but you can find it here, for now.

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Reading Progress

August 11, 2015 – Shelved
August 11, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
November 8, 2015 – Started Reading
November 11, 2015 – Finished Reading
November 26, 2015 – Shelved as: books-of-the-year-2016
November 26, 2015 – Shelved as: brooklyn
June 9, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
May 5, 2019 – Shelved as: nyc
May 5, 2019 – Shelved as: new-york-city

Comments Showing 1-43 of 43 (43 new)

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message 1: by tdtg (new)

tdtg good

message 2: by Steve (new)

Steve "Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Which is nice if you are fond of aphorisms. Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us leaves us frightened, damaged, and scarred."

Thank you for another entry into the "Will's Wise Words" file.

And thanks for alerting us to one that sounds very promising. Since I already alliterated, I'll skip any puns. Besides, you kind of beat me to the pun(ch). As you said, this one does seem to have "caught a rising thermal."

message 3: by Will (last edited Nov 27, 2015 08:21PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Steve. While I am not exactly a patron of the Oyster Bar, (my relationship with clams ends at chowder) it is always a plus for me when a book wanders through familiar physical locations. And while I may not be a bi-valve aficionado, Grand Central Station, and environs, has been a significant place in my life, so the Oyster Bar is part of my visual landscape. Prospect Hts as well. DUMBO too.

Ivy Bookqueen Great review

Will Byrnes Thanks, Ivy

Will Byrnes Steve wrote: ""Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Which is nice if you are fond of aphorisms. Sometimes, what doesn’t kill us leaves us frightened, damaged, and scarred."

Thank you for another e..."

So many books with Bird/egg/feather imagery. My ability to reference it all is beginning to molt.

message 7: by Hayat (new)

Hayat Fantastic review, Will! I especially enjoyed the nest-egg/bird/feather imagery and how you used it as a metaphor throughout your review. :)

Will Byrnes Hayat wrote: "Fantastic review, Will! I especially enjoyed the nest-egg/bird/feather imagery and how you used it as a metaphor throughout your review. :)"
Thanks, Hayat. It's such fun to find such seams...then mine them until they are completely exhausted.

message 9: by Lela (new) - added it

Lela Such a great review deserves applause! Do you hear my hands flapping? Adding this now!

message 10: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Aw,shucks, Ma'am

message 11: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Awesome review, Will! :)

message 12: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes See comment #10

Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters GREAT GREAT GRREATTTTTT review!!! (can I hire you?)...lol I loved the book too....Loved the things you pointed out...
but Will,??? why 'can't' I have a dose of post trauma improvement?? Pretty please? lol
THE BEST.... YOU ROCK....I'm sending people to your review. I thought the beginning of this story was brilliant...
Getting caught with your pants down never was more of a ripple effect in any book I've read in a long time! Cheers! :)

message 14: by Betsy (new)

Betsy Robinson Wonderful review, Will. I've put this on my to read list. Thanks.

message 15: by Will (last edited Dec 03, 2015 05:22AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Ladies. You will not be sorry.

Elyse (retired from reviewing/semi hiatus) Walters No you won't "ladies". I agree!

message 17: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Would you prefer hellions?

message 19: by THEOWENATOR (new)

THEOWENATOR could u friend me i bave 0i am 10

message 20: by Lela (new) - added it

Lela Will wrote: "Would you prefer hellions?"

More realistic!

Sabrina choiniere C'est beau j'ai commencé à pleurer

message 22: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Merci

Christine Zibas Great review. I saw this author on the Seth Myers show last night (not sure if new or a rerun), and it really made me want to read this one.

message 24: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Christine. I added a link into the EXTRA STUFF section.

message 25: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee A very insightful and interesting review. People struggle no matter what their backgrounds or socioeconomic status. I could feel your admiration in this review Will.

message 26: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Jaidee.

message 27: by R (new) - rated it 3 stars

R Good review. Made me rethink a few things about the book.
One correction though, is that allowed? Jack husband is Walker, not Walter. Walter is Melody's husband.

message 28: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes R wrote: "Good review. Made me rethink a few things about the book.
One correction though, is that allowed? Jack husband is Walker, not Walter. Walter is Melody's husband."


Thanks, R. I hate it when things like this slip through. Corrections have been made.

message 29: by Hayaat Madni (new)

Hayaat Madni nice

Debra Lowman Great review, as always. What bothered me most about this book was the financial mess each sibling and most characters made and then how each harbored the entitled idea that some "other" ought to bail them out, the Nest, the aunts, a lover.

It also bothered me that a few characters just dropped off. What happened with Mom? George?

message 31: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Debra. I expect a major point was to show the foolishness of such reliance, and how it distorts lives and relationships.

Meredith Hughes Spectacular review.

message 33: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Meredith

Christine Zibas Just read your review after finishing the book last night. I am even more impressed with your review after having read the book. You capture what is special about it, the well created characters and dilemmas each faces. One of the big questions I am left lingering with is "Why did I like the Leo character so much?" Is it a personal flaw or is D'Aprix Sweeney so talented that she was able to manipulate my emotions as with the rest of the Plumb clan?

message 35: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks Christine. I think many of us have come across people who are charming but morally empty. I know I have. I am not not sure,technically, how she accomplishes this, but you are certainly correct that she has succeeded in doing it.

message 36: by Lily (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lily I like Leo too, Christine. He has charisma. Great review, as always.

message 37: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Lily

message 38: by Lynn (new) - rated it 1 star

Lynn Gionette I wish you would have written the book!!

message 39: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes That is very kind of you, Lynn. Thanks. But I don't think anyone else could have written it as well Sweeney did. She did a great job.

message 40: by Leo (new) - rated it 2 stars

Leo Walsh Just picked this up. May not get to it until January because of the holidays. But with NCAA football done and, me being Browns fan, NFL in the bag, January through April's just the NBA and books for me. Since I hate most regular TV....

message 41: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Well, January is only a week away. I don't think the book will mind waiting. And with your NFL involvement on the sidelines you can look forward to reading it without being concussed.

Lillian Your review is perfect. Just finished the book. I am trying to get over Melody's spoiled birthday dinner. Walker made everything so lovely then...well you know!

message 43: by Will (new) - rated it 5 stars

Will Byrnes Thanks, Lillian. It is a very impressive book.

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