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Why Ellie Loves The "Messed-Up, Dysfunctional, Self-Obsessed" Plumbs
Kemper tells us why reading The Nest made her giddy despite its unlikeable characters
Book of the Month, Ellie Kemper
April Guest Judge Ellie Kemper selected Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's debut novel, The Nest as her Book of the Month. She explains why this particular dysfunctional family is worth getting to know.
The Nest does not meander gently through the paths of four troubled siblings and their various problems; it flies. I apologize for the bird pun in the very first sentence of this review, but what can I say? I'm giddy. I could not put this book down. The Plumb family is a messed-up, dysfunctional, self-obsessed unit full of messed-up dysfunctional, self-obsessed members '“ much like your family or mine. What makes their journey a delight to read is the way that Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney seamlessly and artfully weaves their stories together. I've always been fascinated by the fact that an artist can induce pleasure from essentially unlikeable characters, and Ms. Sweeney does just that in this captivating story.
"The Nest" refers to the Plumb siblings' shared trust fund, which they are due to receive on the youngest sibling's 40th birthday. As is often the case with oldest siblings (I myself am the second of four '“ incidentally, the second child is historically regarded as the "dove-like" child who can "do no wrong"), the eldest Plumb brother goes and gets himself into an accident mere months away from this long-awaited payday. The financial consequences from this event put the entire Nest in danger, and the remaining three siblings are left scrambling as this promised jackpot disappears before their eyes.
As a result of counting on this trust fund for years, the Plumb children have remained as just that: children. Their arrested development has produced any number of irresponsible life choices; Jack and Melody insist on living beyond their means to keep up appearances, Bea remains stunted in a writing career that never quite blossomed, and Leo Plumb appears to live first, foremost, and solely for himself. What the author does so masterfully in this novel is to continuously rotate the points of view; each chapter is told through a different character's eyes. In this way, the story never takes a moment's rest.
While reading this book, I involuntarily assigned the cast of Mad Men to play the various characters. I saw John Slattery as Leo, Vincent Kartheiser as Jack, Elisabeth Moss as Melody (we would have to age her a bit, but it could work). I think this is a comment on how easily the story dances in the reader's mind; it lives and breathes and is as immediate as a theater piece playing out before your eyes. I was sad to reach the last page. I hope that Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney writes another one, very soon.