For all the acerbic humor that Sweeney wrings from this family’s self-absorption, she maintains a refreshing balance of tenderness. Rather than skewering the Plumbs to death, she pokes them, as though probing to find the humanity beneath their cynical crust. And because we need some relief from the Plumbs — lest they grow intolerably annoying — the book expands to explore their far more mature friends, relations and victims.
It’s easy to see why Sweeney’s debut earned her a seven-figure advance and early praise from fans including Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Gilbert. Her writing is like really good dark chocolate: sharper and more bittersweet than the cheap stuff, but also too delicious not to finish in one sitting.
The Nest doesn’t need much in the way of set dressing. It just has the author’s excellent antennas for describing the New York area and that evergreen fuel for food fights: an inheritance meant to be divided among adult children. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney lived in New York for many years before relocating to Los Angeles. Her familiarity with both cities animates The Nest, about the four dysfunctional (what did you expect?) Plumb siblings and their fiscal expectations.
Sweeney rolls out their lives, exposes their secrets and then, predictably, allows each in his or her own way to discover what's truly valuable in life ... It's well-written but not barrier-breaking and, like a promised financial windfall, may not add up to all you hoped it would be.
It turns out that Sweeney is more of a romantic than she perhaps realizes. That becomes clear in her subplots, which feature New Yorkers on the lower end of the economic spectrum whose lives the often-oblivious Plumbs disrupt. Making room for the perspective of the city’s other half is important, given the Plumb siblings’ self-involvement. But the artificial neatness of the downstairs storylines dilutes Sweeney’s irony. When these minor, and morally superior, characters end up amply rewarded with authorial acts of kismet—if not for the accident, Matilda would never have met her fellow-amputee love interest in rehab—the effect feels more like absolution for the Plumbs than like a true critique of their ways.
A wholly ungenerous reading of The Nest might see it as a myopic plea for a moral universe in which the greatest rewards come to the creative, attractive, and well heeled — and to good-hearted workers who know their place. A more generous one might peg The Nest as a flawed ode to the virtues of middle-class family values, a view perhaps most accessible to those who see themselves in it.
The tone of The Nest veers a bit wildly sometimes, full-on satirical here and rather more realist there. Certain characterizations look to be drawn with a cartoonist’s brush, and seem a bit judge-y themselves. But these are tiny splotches on the large, lushly populated canvas of the book, which concerns itself with the inherently universal theme of money and the ways having it, not having it, or expecting to have it and not getting it after all, ultimately shapes how we create — or destroy — our lives ... Like her literary ancestors (Austen, Dickens, James, and Wharton, to name a few — though in tone Thackeray seems perhaps closest), Sweeney nails the social and psychological import of money in a particular time and place.
Sweeney doesn’t shy away from mining the oft-explored themes that typically accompany familial shenanigans. But she also adds two elements that make the book unique: less whiny characters and a genuinely satisfying, authentically positive ending ... what makes The Nest such a pleasure to read is not the smug satisfaction we get from observing Leo repeatedly fail to deliver on his promises. It’s that by watching the other characters keep secrets from each other while chipping away at their own shortcomings, we understand why they are simultaneously flawed and refreshingly human.
It's rare to find a novel as guiltily entertaining as it is profound, but The Nest, Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's engrossing debut, is one such book. Enshrined in dark comedy that reaches near-satirical heights, this voyeuristic read has all the fun of a good Netflix binge and obeys Tolstoy's maxim about happy families to a T. The New York–dwelling Plumbs are deliciously distinctive in their unhappiness—though their nonmonetary life concerns are universally relatable.
The most interesting characters are not the greedy siblings — although their machinations and social confrontations are amusing — but Melody’s twin daughters, Nora and Louisa, who ditch those SAT classes to hang out with rebellious Simone ... Less successful are the author’s attempts to broaden the scope of her first novel with a 9/11 subplot and a closer look at Matilda’s life: the injury, the prosthesis she rejects, the war veteran who urges her on by demonstrating his prosthetic arm. Even so, The Nest is swift and entertaining and would be a natural fit for film or TV.
The Plumb family is a messed-up, dysfunctional, self-obsessed unit full of messed-up dysfunctional, self-obsessed members – much like your family or mine. What makes their journey a delight to read is the way that Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney seamlessly and artfully weaves their stories together. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that an artist can induce pleasure from essentially unlikeable characters, and Ms. Sweeney does just that in this captivating story.
D’Aprix Sweeney competently explores the relationships, comic battles, skirmishes, surrenders and reconciliations of the Plumb family, in and around New York City. It’s a promising start for this writer, though I felt some characters got short shrift.
After reading Ms. Sweeney's debut novel, I can’t help but question [Amy] Poehler’s judgment. I found the family to be neither juicy nor particularly dysfunctional, or remotely funny ... Ms. Sweeney’s prose is tepid and long-winded. The characters are flat and unrealized ... To her credit, Ms. Sweeney captured post 9/11, pre-recession New York, that anxious space where many Americans began to realize they could lose everything in an instant, but didn’t plan accordingly; that sweet spot where we still felt entitled to the American dream.
There are shades of Salinger’s Glass family in the dysfunction of the Plumb siblings, but the challenges Sweeney throws her characters bring them all vividly to life. Worries about real estate, parenting, relationships, college funds and a future without this long-assured nest egg hover around the Plumbs. Sweeney expertly weaves the chapters together, moving the spotlight from character to character as they come together and recede, each guided by a measure of selfish folly that Sweeney molds into a powerful narrative.