Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Rich people's problems: Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's The Nest

You can't walk into a Chapters or Indigo right now without seeing several different displays pushing the sale of Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's debut novel The Nest. Not to mention that Book of the Month is featuring guest judge Ellie Kemper (of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt fame) lauding praise over what is certainly the current moment's 'it' novel.

So with the buzz deafening I picked up this book and's pretty fantastic. The Nest follows the story of the four Plum children, now well into adulthood and waiting for their youngest sibling, Melody, to turn forty so that they can access a $2 million trust ("The Nest") that their father had left behind. All four had made questionable financial decisions in anticipation of The Nest bailing them out from any bad debt they had incurred. But just a few months before The Nest is set to be distributed, the eldest son, Leo, has a horrible car accident while engaging in a sex act with a 19 year old waitress. Desperate to avoid media attention, the Plum's mother taps into The Nest to pay off the waitress and her family in exchange for silence, leaving Leo's three siblings in dire financial strait.

The novel takes us from there, as the three children try to coax Leo into paying The Nest back while Leo tries to re-enter an art world he had once excelled at but had abandoned. The other siblings also try to regain their footing, realizing that they had made a grave mistake in counting on The Nest but not knowing how right the ship.

Sweeney's prose is really smart and sly and sexy. She writes with fancy multisyllabic prose that conveys beauty and style and uses her masterful words to paint really engaging portraits of the four main protagonists and their supporting cast. She manages to take a story about a financial anxiety that most of us cannot relate to into a parable about rediscovery and turning misfortune to break from elements of our life that cause stress and pain.

In many ways, The Nest reminds me of the sharp and biting writing associated with Jonathan Franzen before he became such an asshole. Sweeney captures some of the vibe we got from The Corrections, although Sweeney (unlike Franzen) is not so quick to expose her characters as despicable humans we want to see crash and fail. That said, while Franzen is great at limiting the number of narrative voices, I did find that Sweeney cast her net too far at points, trying to include too many perspectives and story lines into the novel, some that felt unnecessary that did not add anything of value to the novel as a whole. Despite this, the novel works and would be a delightful summer read.

As an addendum, Sweeney was the guest on the Lit Up podcast a few weeks back and it is worth giving it a listen and hear how she took until her forty's to finally put the pen to paper and start writing her novel.

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