Released March 22 of last year, The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney was incredibly hyped up throughout 2016 with myriads of praise and best seller distinctions, also being named Book of the Year by Harper Collins. Working in a bookstore made this debut novel hard to ignore and once again like The Couple Next Door, I just had to read it and see what I was missing, if anything.
The Nest deals with the four siblings of the Plumb family who are all set to inherit “the nest” (a trust fund set up by their father) once the youngest Plumb turns forty. Months before their inheritance, the eldest Plumb sibling, Leo, gets into some trouble that requires financial assistance. Thus, Mrs. Plumb practically drains the nest in order to help him, leaving the other siblings (Melody, Jack and Beatrice) rather annoyed and panicked, since they were counting on the inheritance for their own personal financial situations.
The actual process of reading The Nest was very enjoyable and it did not take long to finish – but afterwards, the more I thought about it (especially after that less than mediocre ending), the more I realized it was hard to pinpoint what exactly was enjoyable about it, which made me question my initial judgment. I knew I liked it, but I didn’t know why. After some thought, I realized what I liked about it was the product itself as a piece of writing – the way it was crafted and plotted, its multiple POVs and the many interwoven backstorys – and the things that left me with that ‘meh’ feeling afterwards were things like the ineffective storyline and its lack of a profound, emotional connection or epiphany or message. Because essentially, when all is said and done, The Nest was a good story in itself with potential for the kind of drama that could make an impact on a reader, but ultimately just…went…nowhere. There was a lot being written, but not a lot being said.
As I mentioned, the writing in The Nest was surprisingly very well done for a best seller. It was engaging and easy to follow without being boring or repetitive. The prose delved deep into each character’s past, often going on little tangents into some little vignette of the past that was relevant to the current situation, further revealing character.
However, there was a lot of head hopping – not only between paragraphs but sometimes within paragraphs. Unlike the head hopping in The Perfume Collector, the head hopping in The Nest wasn’t as bad, but it was unclear if the author was trying to write in third-person omniscient, or if they were trying to write in third-person limited, but were doing a terrible, amateur job of it. After some research, I discovered The Nest is supposed to be written in a third-person omniscient perspective, which means the story is told in a non-character/narrator, ‘eye of God’s’ voice, which further means, the point of view should have no distinct voice – but this is where Sweeney’s omniscient POV fails. The Nest’s writing style certainly has voice, reflected by whichever character’s view point we were in, some more than others. One character swears more than others, another character embodies a more anxiety-ridden thought process, and another character’s thoughts reflect a sometimes bitter outlook on things. There is nothing wrong with having a character’s voice come through in the prose, but there is something very wrong with mixing the perspectives of characters within the same scene when we know each one has a different voice and each can’t possibly have access to the other character’s thoughts and feelings.
I think Sweeney’s attempt to make the third person omniscient POV work was a good try, but not the right fit for this kind of story. The omniscient POV does not serve the story in any way, so it could have just as easily been written in third-person limited only, which would have allowed for Sweeney to keep the distinct voices of her characters and do without the botched, random dips into the omniscient POV. Here’s a helpful, quick article that explains more about head hopping and POVs.
Anyway, regardless of the sometimes jarring POV, I still enjoyed how the prose weaved through the many intricate storylines going on with each character – and I enjoyed the fact that there actually were a lot of characters, not just the four Plumb siblings as I thought it’d be. I know some people hate it when there’s too may characters because it can be hard to follow or hard to care about what’s going on with each one, and at first I myself was worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up, but once I got a few chapters down and become more familiar, it was very easy to follow. However, I wouldn’t recommend going more than a day without reading it in case you forget what’s happening.
As for the content, like I said – I really enjoyed reading it when I was right in it, and one thing I liked reading about the most (I realize this is quite bias) was the SpeakEasy Media and Paper Fibres online magazines that Beatrice and Leo were involved in, along with Stephanie (Leo’s on/off girlfriend), who is a literary agent, and Beatrice’s novel writing problems. I really love fiction that revolves around anything to do with the writing or publishing industry, and I was pleasantly surprised when The Nest took a turn towards that. I find it’s such a fun topic to base fictional drama around, and it creates an entertaining, meta effect.
The thing that wasn’t so great about the content though, was that nothing seemed to come of it. Sweeney did a good job of constructing an intricate story and of creating character’s with distinct voices and motives for whatever goal they were each trying to achieve, but at the end of it all, I didn’t feel I had learnt anything from it, other than the cliched takeaways like, ‘Don’t rely on money for your happiness’ and ‘Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket’ and ‘If you want something done, do it yourself.’ Not only that, but I was expecting the pressure to build and build towards some kind of epic, family drama climax with back stabbing and betrayals – the potential for it was there (especially with Beatrice’s novel she was writing, I mean come on! I was expecting so much to go down with that!) – but nope, it all kind of fizzled out a little too nice and neatly for me, and I did not like the fact that the character who deserved to suffer the most from their actions, did not suffer any consequences at all. The ending was simply dissatisfying and underwhelming.
But everything leading up to this anticlimactic ending made for a fun read. I would not call The Nest Book of the Year though, it has a lot that could be fixed in terms of story effect and POV, but as far as contemporary literature goes, I was pleasantly surprised with how well it was written and crafted. I still recommend reading it if you like to read, but just don’t expect to come away from it with anything profound about sibling hierarchies or family relations or the human psyche. The Nest serves its purpose as an entertaining, fairly well-written story, but it is nothing more than that.