The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

the nestThe Nest has buzz. An excellent review by the New York Times. A huge advance payment to a first-time author from a publisher. It does not, however, have any characters I liked or could root for in his/her quest to attain a share of The Nest (egg).

faberge eggSummary

The Plumb siblings, (Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody) have been waiting. Waiting for years.
Counting their egg well before it hatched on Melody’s fortieth
birthday. Ignoring the concerns, counseling, and skepticism of friends, family, and lovers in a mutual, bull-headed reliance on the largesse that is to come. Frankly, none of them deserve their father’s well-planned beneficence.

It’s Leo, the eldest, who puts the nest into jeopardy with his incredibly selfish and stupid drug-addled behavior. The Plumb matriarch (widowed, remarried and the apparent source of her children’s disagreeable personalities) uses the nest rather than her own funds to solve Leo’s problems. Leo promises Jack (selfish, narcissistic, insecure), Bea (bland, depressed, colorless), and Melody (overbearing, self-pitying, stalker) he will repay the money. And ignoring all family and non-family history of big brother’s behavior, the siblings believe him.

New York Times Review

The New York Times review included the following passage:

28BOOKSWEENEY-superJumbo

Photo of the author by Lisa Whitman for the New York Times

Ms. Sweeney takes her story to Grand Central Terminal, and to the sequence she has said gave her the idea for “The Nest” in the first place. What if a group of siblings were forced to meet for lunch at the Oyster Bar, but each one of them required a fortifying belt at another place before the actual family meeting? It could tell readers a lot about the family in general and the characters as individuals, too.

It’s a handy trick, just right for the Nancy Meyers movie that “The Nest” could easily become. Ecco reportedly paid a disproportionately big advance for this book. But consider what Ms. Meyers or a similar director could do with four adorably mixed-up siblings and their romantic woes, crazy run-ins and rich-person problems. So what if the book isn’t very funny? Neither are those movies, and that hasn’t stopped them.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/28/books/review-in-the-nest-a-family-pot-to-split-sets-sibling-relations-to-a-slow-boil.html?_r=0

I couldn’t disagree more. Nancy Meyers wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. There’s not much humor, no one to like or root for, and frankly, The Nest isn’t funny. At all. I’m not sure it it’s even supposed to be. To me, it read like a strident warning — not just about the family dynamics of inheritance but of the people we can become in our attempts to control others.

From the Book

He was tired of gossip. God, was he tired of gossip. By the time he sold it, SpeakEasyMedia had fully morphed into the very thing Leo most loathed. It had become a pathetic parody of itself, not any more admirable or honest or transparent than the many publications and people they ruthlessly ridiculed—twenty-two to thirty-four times a day to be exact, that was the number the accountants had come up with, how many daily posts they needed on each of their fourteen sites to generate enough clickthroughs to keep the advertisers happy. An absurd amount, a number that meant they had to give prominence to the mundane, shine a spotlight of mockery on the unlucky and often undeserving—publishing stories that were immediately forgotten except by the poor sods who’d been fed to the ever-hungry machine that was SpeakEasyMedia. “The cockroaches of the Internet,” one national magazine had dubbed them, illustrating the article with a cartoon drawing of Leo as King Roach. He was tired of being King Roach. The numbers the larger media company dangled seemed huge to Leo who was also, at that particular moment, besotted with his new publicist, Victoria Gross, who had come from money and was accustomed to money and looked around the room of Leo’s tiny apartment the first time she visited as if she’d just stepped into a homeless shelter.

My book club really liked the book. And I have to say I did take a lot from reading it. It was well-written, quick-witted, and I certainly learned a few lessons from it. Who not to be.

MENU

There’s an Italian, spring-themed dinner planned that is the denouement:

“Walker had lined the table with platters of bread and cheese, tiny ceramic bowls of olives. He’d scattered lemons and twigs of rosemary down the center.”

In addition, Walker served:

Champagne

Lemonade

Chicken scaloppini

Limoncello for dessert

Coconut cake

MUSIC

This is a stream-of-consciousness list inspired by my reading – some are mentioned in the text.

Just the Way You Look Tonight, Harry Connick, Jr.

Heartbreaker, Pat Benatar

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Leo Sayer

Jumpin Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones

I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor

All By Myself, Eric Carmen

Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers

Paperback Writer, The Beatles

MOVIE CASTING

Leo — Ben Affleck

Jack — Robert Downey, Jr.

Bea — Laura Linney

Melody — Laura Dern

Stephanie –Amy Adams

Walter — John C. Reilly

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Love in the Time of Malaria: Euphoria by Lily King

sepik

Image of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea found on metrolic.com

     Once upon a time, in a land very far away, there lived strange, isolated, fearsome people who cared not for books, electricity, Catholicism, Christianity, clothing.  They lived in tribes along a river called the Sepik, rife with crocodiles, and ate bizarre foods, conducted outlandish rituals, they intentionally scarred the bodies of their young men and occasionally indulged in orgies of sexual abandon.  They made art, made war, traded goods and each tribe spoke its own language.

png-karim-tribe-intiation-dance-_25524_600x450Photo, National Geographic

     But all good things must come to an end.  In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into this exotic locale, three anthropologists (Australian, American and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933.

Bateson, Mead and Fortune in 1933, from The Guardian

     Euphoria was named a top ten best of 2014 by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, NPR and others and won the 2014 Kirkus Prize.  The New York Times lauded the novel, calling it a “taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace — a love triangle in extremis.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/08/books/review/euphoria-by-lily-king.html

     When Nell and her Aussie husband Fen appear in Euphoria, Brit Bankson has been rescued by natives trying to drown himself in the river.  He is sick, lonely, depressed and hopeless in his work.  For the most part, King chooses Bankson to narrate the tale further into the heart of darkness, through the tendrils of roots and vines, into the smoky interiors of huts and along the blackness of a river at night.

     Bankson tends to Nell, wrapping her broken ankle, gifting her a pair of glasses to replace her broken ones, offering her aspirin for a fever.  Bankson and Nell are drawn together intellectually at the same time as Nell and Fen are at odds:  Fen jealous of Nell’s success in publishing a detailed account of the sexual exploits of a tribe she had studied before their marriage.   Nell ensnares Bankson with her brain, her purpose, her methods and her words:

It’s that moment about two months in, when you think you’ve finally got a handle on the place. Suddenly it feels within your grasp. It’s a delusion – you’ve only been there eight weeks – and it’s followed by the complete despair of ever understanding anything. But at the moment the place feels entirely yours. It’s the briefest, purest euphoria.

     As Bankson falls for Nell, so does the reader of Euphoria.  Believe me, I stay in the least camp-like environment I can find and yet by the end of the book through the beauty of King’s prose even I could understand, if not seek to emulate, the passion that drove Margaret Mead and others like her to explore to the ends of the earth.  As Nell explains:

Why are we, with all our “progress,” so limited in understanding & sympathy & the ability to give each other real freedom? Why with our emphasis on the individual are we still so blinded by the urge to conform? … I think above all else it is freedom I search for in my work, in these far-flung places, to find a group of people who give each other the room to be in whatever way they need to be. And maybe I will never find it all in one culture but maybe I find parts of it in several cultures, maybe I can piece it together like a mosaic and unveil it to the world.

     It’s a sensual, exciting, glorious read.  I am going to suggest it for my next book club.

euphoria

MENU

I will offer my book club a version of one of Bankson’s most pleasant meals, barramundi and champagne.

Here’s a lovely looking recipe for barramundi, which also has the advantage of being sustainable and available at Whole Foods, apparently.  http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipe/lemongrass-steamed-barramundi

MUSIC

So this is where I’m really having fun.

Jungle Love, by The Time (one of my favorite boogie songs from an earlier life)  http://youtu.be/P9DdexHiGmU

The Lion Sleeps Tonight, the Tokens

Jungle Boogie, Kool & The Gang

Bungle in the Jungle, Jethro Tull

Jungleland, Springsteen

You get the idea.

MOVIE CASTING

Nell:  Amy Adams

Fen:  Eric Bana

Bankson:  Hugh Dancy

   Enjoy!  Happy Reading and Eating.