Book Review: The Nest

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Before I get to the Christmas reviews (and try to bang them out this week before we get to the new year), I have a book that I read for Thanksgiving. Yes, Thanksgiving does have some books. Well, sorta. Certainly there is not a huge amount of them (like Thanksgiving movies and let’s not even bother with Thanksgiving music) and what there is can sometimes be a stretch, but I did attempt a Thanksgiving reading list in 2020 and so read the second one on that list this year. It is The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney.

Let’s get some things out of the way, first. There is a 2020 movie, The Nest, with Jude Law that has absolutely nothing to do with this book. Neither does the British mini-series (again, The Nest) which also aired in 2020. The Nest—the book I am reviewing—is a New York Times Bestseller and was optioned for film several years ago but, despite being sorta perfect for a movie or TV series, all of that was dropped after awhile and it doesn’t look like it’ll ever be made into a movie. So there’s that. Also, it’s inclusion on lists as a Thanksgiving book is a bit of a stretch. A lot of a stretch. It takes place through the year over a couple years and it has no memorable Thanksgiving scenes. It’s inclusion—and I remember seeing this a year ago—has more to do with its being about the messiness of families which is, admittedly, a common Thanksgiving (or even holidays) theme. It didn’t read Thanksgiving to me, but I guess I get it.

The Nest is about four adult siblings who are set to inherit money (they call it “the nest”) when the youngest of them turns forty—so in the near-distant future when the book opens up. While all of them have structured their lives and finances around this future windfall (despite the warnings of their better halves) the oldest, Leo—the one who has matured the least—is about to spectacularly (and with the help of his mother, a weird non-character) obliterate the nest, his sibling’s plans and lives, and a number of relationships. But he’ll pay them back, right? I mean, he co-built a publication empire once, so he can do it again, surely. At least once he returns from rehab. But do we trust him? More importantly, do his siblings trust him and will it be to their credit or destruction?

This book is very New York-y. Very high society, arts world. Casual drugs. Trips in cabs and on the subway. So in that sense, I was a little bored. These are not my people. It’s been overdone. I’m not really that interested anymore because this world is often unrelatable and this book doesn’t make it much more relatable to me. (I’m not a particularly voyeuristic reader, I guess. And if I was, I don’t think this world would be the one I would be drawn to frequently.) If you really like to be dropped into New York City and wander with characters through the bars and Central Park and the museum and Ground Zero and the burroughs, etc., then you would find that aspect of the book interesting. But part of what makes current books a sign of the times is the moral mundaneness of its characters, and that’s another very New York/literary thing that I can do without: a cast of unlikeable characters. (There were a few likeable ones, but they were in the background and you don’t really figure this out for quite some time.)

By the end of the book, I liked it somewhat. But let me get you there, first. The first several chapters are POV from the siblings. All of a sudden, there is a chapter from some random guy’s POV and you’re like “What the heck? I have no idea where I am or why and I could care less about this storyline” (not to mention that it is a 9/11 story which might have felt fresh at the time of publication but feels a bit shoe-horned now). Then this happens a couple more times with a couple other characters before you figure out that eventually all these stories are going to weave together. (You also realize that one of the background characters is a character from the beginning, but you might not have even made that connection until it was late enough that you felt stupid.) By then I honestly might have put the book down, but I am a committed reader.

The writing is fair; unobtrusive and occasionally great. We do get a real sense of these characters (and I’m a sucker for a large cast of characters) although some of them stayed a bit muddy for me (and there were a couple—especially the mother—who shouldn’t have even been included at all. She should have been dead, honestly, or estranged or something). There is also at least one major plot line (about the two nieces/daughters) that is completely off-topic and seems included just to get in another sellable topic, namely sexual exploration and sexual identity. I can see where many of these things could be said about the novel I am currently looking to sell, but it doesn’t change that much of this book was a confusing, uninteresting mess. Well, that’s too harsh. It was okay, I thought, until I got to the end. If you have read my blog for long, you know that I am in love with complicated plotlines that twist together at the end for a nice, big plotsplosion. Obviously this is one of those cases. It wasn’t as neat or death-defying as some that I have seen, but the ending bits do lend a sense of balance and purpose to the rest of the book and are by far the best parts to read. And there are things to contemplate here, almost exclusively about familial relationships (though there are lessons about finances and counting your chickens before they hatch, as well). I liked what it says about family, no matter how hard it is to face these realities. It was worth the read, I think, but never going to be a favorite of mine. Still, I believe I’ll remember things about it for years to come.


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