I am very excited to be able to share my thoughts about Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel The Nest. I have not been this excited about a novel since I read Liane Moriarty’s book Big Little Lies.
The Nest centers around the Plumb family – four siblings who have been living their lives and making (mostly poor) decisions with the expectation that when the youngest sibling turns 40, they’ll all receive huge sums of money from a nest egg that their father invested before his death. However, something happens that threatens the nest egg and causes each sibling to examine his or her life and choices.
This was an absolutely brilliant novel. The most frequent criticism of the book is that the characters are unlikable. I think this is valid to an extent. Most of the characters are very self-centered, but aren’t we all at some point in our lives, especially when our expectations of how our lives are going to go are challenged? I thought that each and every character, even the numerous minor characters, were so realistically crafted. I will admit that the volume of characters in this book (four siblings + some significant others + some children + coworkers + ex-significant others + a grumpy mother + additional tertiary characters) was a bit intimidating at first, but because even the most minor of characters was given character-development moments, I was able to easily keep everyone straight. Everyone had a distinct personality and remained consistent throughout the novel. Even the character growth was all very plausible and kept in mind how each character had already been established. No one had a seemingly miraculous transformation. They all acted and reacted and responded in ways that made sense for their characters.
The closer I got to the ending, the more I began to fear what was going to happen with the narrative. Would the author choose a cheesy happily-ever-after that negated all of the realism of the previous pages? Would she go for an ending filled with tragedy or would it feel entirely unresolved? I obviously will not be giving away the ending, and I don’t even really want to hint at it, but I will say that it was perfectly crafted. It ended on a note of believable hope and optimism. Things were as resolved as they could be for a dysfunctional family, which is to say that there was still room for anything to happen after “The End” but the immediate core conflicts faced by the characters in the book were resolved beautifully and realistically.
I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone looking for character-driven contemporary fiction, especially if you’re looking for something that deals with domestic issues. Any type of relationship you can imagine (parenthood, romantic entanglements, sibling rivalry, friendship, etc.) is addressed at some point. For writers, I would definitely recommend this book as an example of where an author successfully broke a rule of writing fiction: she does not keep a consistent point-of-view. In this novel, the POV changes almost constantly with each scene, but it absolutely worked. This novel would have been a totally different creature if we were getting information about all of the characters filtered through the eyes of only one character, who will naturally be biased. The way that this is written, we get a true “big picture” view of each character and how they seem themselves and others. It is amazing in terms of character development. Similarly, the way the dialogue is written seems so organic. It never feels stilted or forced. Anyone struggling with writing dialogue should read this dialogue as an example of how to write believable conversations.
I can’t wait to see what Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney writes next. I’ll have to look through my Goodreads page to confirm, but I’m fairly certain that this was the best book I read during 2016.