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The Heirs: A Novel Hardcover – May 23, 2017
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From the Publisher
A Conversation with Susan Rieger, Author of The Heirs: A Novel
Q) Your debut novel, The Divorce Papers, was a modern-day epistolary work that told the story of a hilariously contentious divorce entirely through e-mails, confessional letters, brisk memoranda, newspaper articles, interviews, cases, etc. Your new novel, The Heirs, is a more traditional novel. Why the shift in format?
A) I had written a short story and my editor at Crown, Lindsay Sagnette, asked me if I might think of turning it into a novel. So I did. I think it’s a good idea to try new things, especially as we get older. Keep those neurons firing. “Newness is goodness,” as Orwell writes (a bit ominously).
Q) In The Heirs, you wrestle with the nature of family, inheritance, and legacy as it affects an unforgettable, upper-crust Manhattan clan. What was the inspiration for the novel?
A) I kept reading about DNA testing that showed that something like 25 percent of those tested weren’t the children of the men they thought were their fathers. In the original short story, there was an intimation that the Falkes boys weren’t their father’s sons. I was thinking rich-poor mix-up, The Prince and the Pauper or Pudd’nhead Wilson or Midnight’s Children. It was Shakespeare turned on his head: “It’s a wise child who knows his own father.”
Q) There are a lot of secrets in The Heirs, many of them the reader is not let in on. Did you make a conscious decision to hold certain pieces of information back? If so, why?
A) I did withhold deliberately. All parents have secrets and their children want to know them. My parents had secrets, some I learned and some no doubt I didn’t. Children come to the family story late; by the time they’re born, their parents are grown-ups, with lived lives. In my experience, most parents prefer to keep their children in the dark. I don’t think children ever see their parents in the round, and, even if they learned the secrets, I don’t think they could see them whole. Parents are like the Greek Gods, powerful and inscrutable.
Q) The Heirs is filled with richly developed characters. Was there one character that you had more fun writing than the others? If so, why? Did you relate to any of them personally?
A) I love them all, of course, as any mother would, but I don’t relate personally to them. I conjured their world, their lives, their experiences. I was in analysis for ten years; my own life is too boring to me to write about. I had fun writing about Eleanor—I wish I were more like her. And I had fun writing about Vera—I hope I’m not like her. And then there’s Sam, who has a special place in my heart.
Q) The novel is almost exclusively set in New York City, which is a character in and of itself. Can you tell us a bit about why you chose New York as the setting?
A) I was born in New York City and then exiled, first, briefly, to California, then to Pennsylvania, where most of my growing up took place. After college, I moved to New York and lived there fifteen years until I was again exiled, first to Western Massachusetts, then to New Haven. When I returned to New York in the new millennium, I swore I’d never leave again. It’s my city, the only place I ever wanted to live. It’s open all night; it has every kind of person; it is rude and generous; it’s exhausting and exhilarating. Also, I don’t care much for nature. True.
Q) The Heirs jumps back and forth in time, allowing readers to slowly unravel the characters’ relationships and their pasts. Was this intentional when you set out to write the novel, or did it come about the more you got into the heart of the book?
A) I think chronological story telling is useful and admirable, but I don’t think I’m capable of telling a story in a straightforward manner. My mind is associative (all those years of analysis) and the associations interest me. My first novel, The Divorce Papers, also jumped around. Epistolary novels by their nature are jumpers. I go with Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant— / Success in Circuit lies.”
Q) What are you working on next?
A) I’m perhaps a third of the way through a second Sophie Diehl epistolary novel, called for now The End Papers. It’s about a family (really, my only subject). An old man must make a will. One of his three children, the center of the book, is manic-depressive, a stellar spendthrift with a history of not taking her meds. The book tells the story of this family, jumping between past and present, and how the old man finally decides to settle his estate. I also have scribblings on a second non-epistolary novel called The Original Husband, but it’s too slight, too undeveloped, at this point to talk about. Beyond that, I’m thinking of a third epistolary novel, The Baby Papers. Keep moving.
Praise for The Heirs:
"Both original and moving — and a whole lot of fun...With grace and finesse, Rieger (whose previous novel was The Divorce Papers) swings effortlessly from character to character... the major players are so richly alive, their search for the truth so absorbing, that you might tear some pages in your rush to turn them."
— New York Times Book Review
“Elegant literary prose and supremely likeable characters make this a must-read.”
"Fans of Salinger's stories about Manhattan's elite will enjoy this novel about privileged siblings who grapple with the state of their inheritance and long-held secrets that emerge in the wake of their father's death."
“Love and sex and money and betrayal make for excellent storytelling. And The Heirs has all of that... As an exploration of the hidden lives of Rupert and Eleanor Falkes, it is a posh soap opera written by Fitzgerald and the Brontes. As a window on a family shaken by death, it is The Royal Tenenbaums, polished up and moved across town. But its beauty, economy and expensive wit is all its own.”
“Speaking of intrigue, who doesn’t love a good family drama? As the next step to summer reading bliss, turn off daytime TV and pick up a book that gives you the same kind of thrill without making you feel your brain’s turned to junk. Rieger’s The Heirs is about the secrets and lies that threaten to consume the Falkes family, moneyed Manhattanites with a flawless educational pedigree.”
— Brit + Co
“…a thoroughly engaging family saga and an incisive probe into the upper crust of Manhattan society—a slice of Edith Wharton transported to the 21st century… Rieger’s intimate look at this intriguing family is an erudite and witty take on a social circle that most readers can only imagine.”
“Brilliantly constructed and flawlessly written…an emotional and satisfying story of how a complicated family and their outliers handle life’s most pivotal moments.”
— Library Journal, starred review
"[An] assured novel of family, money, and secrets, reminiscent in theme and tone of Edith Wharton…just in time for poolside reading, this elegant novel wears its intelligence lightly.”
— Kirkus, starred review
"Rieger wrestles perceptively with difficult questions and... shines incrementally increasing light on the Falkes’ extended web of familial and emotional ties, sucking the reader into the tangle of emotions and conflicting interests... a tense, introspective account of looking for truth, and instead finding peace."
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Told both in flashbacks and at the turn of the millennium, there’s something timeless about this family drama; take it back 100 years, and it would easily fit in among the novels of the Gilded Age. It is a charming, slightly haunting look at a family dealing with the inheritance of legacy rather than money and wondering if what happens after a relationship matters as much as how it was experienced at the time."
— Diana Platt, Booklist
"Susan Rieger is thrillingly erudite and compulsively readable, a satisfying combination hard to find in any section of the bookstore. The Heirs is an absorbing page-turner, full of sex and secrets, and I loved getting to know the entire Falkes clan.
—Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of Modern Lovers
"What a sure-footed and unfoolable writer Susan Rieger is--and what a great book The Heirs is. Unstoppably entertaining and astute, it describes its characters--the charismatic fauna of old, upper class New York--with a strange, merciless sympathy. Wonderful stuff."
—Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland and The Dog
Selected Praise for The Divorce Papers, by Susan Rieger:
“Ingenious setup and voyeuristic pleasures...Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”
—Emily Giffin, New York Times Book Review
“Fresh and lively… Smart and wonderfully entertaining… The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along… [T]his portrait of a divorce makes for serious, yet charming, entertainment… A dramatic intertwining of the law and human feelings.”
—Alan Cheuse, NPR
“In her clever modern twist on the epistolary form, Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”
—Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review
“Brims with brio and wit.”
“This comedy of manners... unfolds through e-mails, legal briefs, handwritten notes, and interoffice memos... the texts offer a provocative glimpse of how intimately our documents reveal us.”
“Rieger writes with such facility and humor in so many voices… [A]n excellent yarn about the nature of love, insecurity and commitment.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“A witty first novel… The engaging tale…provid[es] all the voyeuristic pleasure of snooping through someone else’s inbox.”
“A fantastic book...excellent.”
“Whip-smart… The characters are hilarious and brilliant.”
About the Author
SUSAN RIEGER is the author of the 2014 novel The Divorce Papers. She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and has worked as a residential College Dean at Yale and as associate provost at Columbia. She lives in New York City with her husband, the writer David Denby.
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