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The Nest Hardcover – March 22, 2016
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"Warlight" by Michael Ondaatje
A dramatic coming-of-age story set in the decade after World War II, "Warlight" is the mesmerizing new novel from the best-selling author of "The English Patient." Pre-order today
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Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs' joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems. Melody, a wife and mother in an upscale suburb, has an unwieldy mortgage and looming college tuition for her twin teenage daughters. Jack, an antiques dealer, has secretly borrowed against the beach cottage he shares with his husband, Walker, to keep his store open. And Bea, a once-promising short-story writer, just can’t seem to finish her overdue novel. Can Leo rescue his siblings and, by extension, the people they love? Or will everyone need to reimagine the futures they’ve envisioned? Brought together as never before, Leo, Melody, Jack, and Beatrice must grapple with old resentments, present-day truths, and the significant emotional and financial toll of the accident, as well as finally acknowledge the choices they have made in their own lives. This is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship, the ways we depend upon one another and the ways we let one another down.
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Let me share the first sentence (yes, this is ONE sentence):
"As the rest of the guests wandered the deck of the beach club under an early-evening midsummer sky, taking pinched, appraising sips of their cocktails to gauge if the bartenders were using the top-shelf stuff and balancing tiny crab cakes on paper napkins while saying appropriate things about how they'd really lucked out with the weather because the humidity would be back tomorrow, or murmuring inappropriate things about the bride's snug satin dress, wondering if the spilling cleavage was due to poor tailoring or poor taste (a look as their own daughters might say) or an unexpected weight gain, winking and making tired jokes about exchanging toasters for diapers, Leo Plumb left his cousin's wedding with one of the waitresses."
First let me say that very rarely do I NOT finish a book but this book merited not finishing. While the story is somewhat predictable and cliché (just read the first sentence), it would not have been so bad if the writing had been better. All tell, no show, which I find maddening. And overwritten to the point where I wanted to claw my eyes out every time I turned a page. I can't believe all of the high ratings for this book, and surely, I can expect to receive a lot of down-voting from folks who are voting on my opposing opinion rather than the quality of my review, but this book was so awful, I'll take the heat.
In a nutshell, the book follows the events that occur after Leo "left his cousin's wedding with one of the waitresses" (see above) and in an inebriated state and receiving a service from the waitress, crashes his car, leaving the poor waitress footless. Thanks to this accident, their father's estate, poised for distribution when the youngest Plumb sibling turns 40 is redirected in order to deal with Leo's indiscretions, legal bills and to make the now footless waitress disappear from their lives.
Now that the four Plumb siblings have lost their inheritance or nest egg (aka "The Nest"), all of their shady goings on have nowhere to hide.
Leo, the oldest is a disgusting pig, a user of people, sucking them dry for his own personal needs. Next in line is Jack, a gay antique shop owner (really?) with a country house. I guess I'm just a little tired of seeing gay people portrayed in the same cliché businesses over and over and over so that annoyed me. Newsflash: Gay people work in all professions, not just antiquing. Oh and he has a lot of financial issues too.
Next cliché sibling is Bea, a wanna-be writer who can't get over lost love, because all creative people hold torches for their lost loves (Dante? Beatrice? Really?). Now she's too sad to move on.
Melody, the last of the Plump siblings was the most realistic of the four, trying to raise twin daughters and manage her expensive dream house in Connecticut. At least this portrayal is representative of the many people living outside of their means. But...
I closed the book forever on the first page of chapter 22, when I read the first few sentences:
"When Matilda was recovering in the hospital and found out how much money she was getting from the Plumb family, she had all kinds of fantasies about what to do with it. (Shamefully, she remembered that her first involuntary thought was a pair of suede boots she'd coveted, the ones that went over the knee and stopped midthigh, then she remembered.) She thought about the trips and clothes and cars and flat screen televisions. She thought about buying her sister her own beauty salon, which she'd always wanted. She thought about buying her mother a divorce."
I just didn't buy it.
That was it for me. Hours of my life I can no longer retrieve.
By the way, I selected this because Amy Poehler states (on the cover, no less): "Intoxicating... I couldn't stop reading or caring about the juicy and dysfunctional Plumb family." I think she meant to say. "I wanted to get intoxicated so that I could stop reading about the jerky and dysfunctional Plumb family."
But fortunately the rest of the novel mainly features adults, though not all of them really qualify for that designation, being all too prone to juvenile or even infantile behavior. Chief among these is the family's prize exhibit, the handsome, charismatic and utterly selfish Leo, who blows the eponymous Nest (the family's trust fund) in an unsavory incident involving a waitress, a handjob and an SUV. The other siblings (there are three) are all in some measure frustrated, discontented or in financial straits, in equal measure resentful of and in awe of Leo. But if all this sounds awfully dreary, well, it's actually not. There's enough humour and good old-fashioned 'human interest' to keep things lively. And the minor characters, with the possible exception of the baby, are unfailingly interesting.
It certainly kept me reading.
Initially, I thought the writing had a certain amount of authority, humor, and style. However, as the book rambles on, it loses focus and starts to feel diffuse and inconsequential. No sooner are you getting a shred of insight and empathy into one character's life then you are whipped around to some other tenuously connected micro-drama. Sadly, though there are some nice moments, it just feels thin because we don't really get a deep sense of the characters---they are described primarily in terms of their lifestyle attributes and seem to define themselves this way as well.
I am about 55% through the book and had to take a break to see if some other readers are as ambivalent as I am (clearly, I am not alone). At this point, I will try to skim on briskly and make it to the end, though I fear it may well end up being rather weak tea. If the milieu and general style intrigue you, I recommend that you give 'The Unfortunates' by Sophie McManus a try. Similar settings and themes, but to my mind more narrative continuity and wry psychological insight, as well as absolutely inspired writing. If you try it, please post a reply and let me know...I would love to know other readers' views on these two thematically similar books that to my mind differ significantly in literary achievement and impact.