Nonguilty Intoxication

The Specs

I’ve never been one to hide my feelings toward chick lit. The last class of my advanced writing capstone during college focused on book recommendations, and of course, most of mine were in the often condemned category. I felt no shame, and my professor backed me up by saying her tenured, English professor father was also fond of the genre. And the Hinnants know their stuff.

So it’s baffling to me that literary critics can shun such great writing, yet I’ll be reading it until my eyes go bad. Sometimes such a gift is dropped into your lap that provides pleasure without a drop of guilt, and this is what Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney delivered in The Nest.

Sweeney’s debut novel has all of the juice that we crave from classic chick lit: the gossip, the hot-mess characters, the love connections, the DRAMA. But there’s something about her elegant writing that keeps any stigma at bay. It’s simply just a beautiful read with a clever storyline.

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Part of my lit review could be traced to where it takes place: New York, including Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, near my first NYC crash pad. The Nest revolves around the Plumb family, which has had its share of dysfunctional over the past 40 years. But the brokenness reaches its peak after one sibling’s misguided fortune drains the siblings’ sought-after trust fund. Can the siblings repair the damage? Can they start over as individuals and as a family?

One of the hardest yet best parts of The Nest is that every character lacks likability, including the four main ones. Leo, the source of most family drama, is responsible for many of his siblings’ hardships with bad decisions preceding even worse decisions. Remorse is apparently a word he’s never heard of. His brother, Jack, fails to respect and appreciate a good thing (and man) right in front of him. Despite being the most amiable of the four, Bea can’t seem to pull herself out of a depressing hole (though she shows the most hope). And Melody, the youngest, is easily the whiniest, neediest, and most ungrateful (not to mention she’s a helicopter parent). Their faults, especially when intertwined, make The Nest intoxicating. “The Plumbs are ridiculous, and it’s fun to pass judgment and worry on their behalf as they nervously eye their bank accounts and learn to live with one another as adults,” wrote The Atlantic‘s Amy Weiss-Meyer in her review, and I couldn’t agree more.

If the characters represent the drama inherent in chick lit, the novel’s conflict, which depicts a larger, global problem, mirrors the symbolism that is fundamental to classic literature. New York endured the entire spectrum of the economic meltdown: It had the big banks that (almost) failed, the millionaires who stayed more than just afloat, the middle to upper classes that saw money disappear, the poorest of the poor, and those who capitalized on opportunities.

“Abundance proffered too soon led to lassitude and indolence, a wandering dissatisfaction.” — The Nest

The Plumbs and their associates represent this gamut as well. And as The Nest takes place during the heart of the recession, you witness the profound anxiety of the time and its varying effects on families. Sweeney excels at weaving in every dynamic from the recession. But the ending is where The Nest fails to ignite a full five flames. I’m not saying I don’t love some good romanticism in a classic chick lit read. But Sweeney’s version of romanticism causes the point she’s trying to make about the recession, money, and family to fall short.

And Weiss-Meyer agrees: “With some money, tempered ambitions, hard work, strengthened relationships, and, yes, a little grand-finale romance, the Plumbs can have their cupcakes and eat them too.” Unfortunately, reality, especially after a global collapse, isn’t that sweet.

But by this point in the novel, the characters had come around, and I was feeling some fondness for all but Leo. So I can’t promise I would have been happy had one of them been royally screwed either. Despite this ambivalence toward the ending, I was engrossed in The Nest. I poured over Sweeney’s beautiful language, and I reveled in the New York setting. If this is what she can deliver in her first novel, then I cannot wait to see what she grants us next.

3 thoughts on “Nonguilty Intoxication

  1. Pingback: Lost Characters | Big Little Literature

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