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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National Book Award Winner: The Round House, Louise Erdrich

round house

Activities Around a Maidu Roundhouse. 1964. Frank Day, artist. Oil paint on canvas. Collection of Oakland Museum of California. Gift of Lyle R. Scott Collection.

It is 1988.  Joe’s mother arrives home covered in blood, in shock and severely physically and psychically injured.  She has been brutally attacked, raped and brutalized somewhere in the vicinity of a ceremonial Round House, a sacred space on the North Dakota reservation on which Joe and his family live.  Joe, a thirteen year old member of the Ojibwe tribe, decides it is beyond the ability of his father, a judge, and mother to mete out justice so he and his best friend Cappy take matters into their own hands.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich is literary fiction disguised as a crime novel, a searing portrait of the decimation of one family which represents the unjust degradations committed against a nation.

Walking through the kitchen door, I heard a splintering crash.  And then a keen, low, anguished cry.  My mother was backed up to the sink, trembling, breathing heavily.  My father was standing a few feet before her with his hands out, vainly groping in the air the shape of her, as if to hold her without holding her.  Between them on the floor lay a smashed and oozing casserole.

I looked at my parents and understood exactly what had happened.  My father had come in — surely Mom had heard the car, and hadn’t Pearl barked?  His footsteps, too, were heavy.  . . . Maybe he’d been too quiet this time.  Maybe he’d gone into the kitchen, just as he always used to, and then he’d put his arms around my mother as she stood with her back turned.  In our old life, she would have kept working at the stove or sink while he peered over her shoulder and talked to her.  The’d stand there together in a little tableau of homecoming.  Eventually, he’d call me in to help him set the table.  He’d change his clothes quickly while she and I put the finishing touches on the meal and then we would sit down together.  We were not churchgoers.  This was our ritual.  Our breaking bread, our communion.  And it all began with that trusting moment where my father walked up behind my mother and she smiled at his approach without turning.  But now they stood staring at each other helplessly over the broken dish.

Against this setting of sexual violence, Louise Erdrich’s main character Joe and his barely teen-aged friends are grappling with their own surging hormones and yearning for their own sexual experiences.  She contrasts the sacred round house with the Catholic church, dreams with reality, legends with the law, and the crime with justice system.  If the crime occurred on Native land, the suspect cannot be prosecuted because tribal courts may not prosecute non-Natives.  If it occurred on state land, state laws are in effect.  But Joe’s mother, the victim, cannot say where the acts occurred — only that they were somewhere in the vicinity of the round house.  As Maria Russo stated in the New York Times review of The Round House, “Law is meant to put out society’s brush fires, but in Native American history it has often acted more like the wind.”  ttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/14/books/review/the-round-house-by-louise-erdrich.html?smid=pl-share

NYT imageNew York Times Illustration by Jon Han

The Round House was one of those books that kept popping up on recommended lists and I ignored it until the Carnegie Center’s Brown Bag Book Group chose it as a fall selection.  I’m very glad I read it.  As with all great literature, it opened a new world to my eyes; the closest I’ve been to North Dakota is probably Arizona or New Mexico but I haven’t any knowledge of Native American reservations or the Tribal Law and Order Act.  Nor was I aware, as Erdrich tells the reader in the afterword to her novel, that a recent Amnesty International report found “1 in 3 Native women will be raped in her lifetime (and that figure is certainly higher as Native women often do not report rape); 86 percent of rapes and sexual assaults upon Native women are perpetrated by non-Native men; few are prosecuted.”

The National Book Awards website features a blog appreciation of The Round House which you can read here:  http://www.nbafictionblog.org/nba-winning-books-blog/2012.html.round house cover

Ultimately, this is one of my favorite types of books to read and would be an excellent choice for a book club.  The prose holds a myriad of chewy topics, characters ranging from humorous to villainous, young to ancient and a plot that keeps you anxiously turning the pages.  For our purposes at daeandwrite, it also includes lots of wonderful food options, often even playing a role in the plot, which seems appropriate for a book whose protagonist is a teenage boy.

I took some apple slices and put them on my tongue.  I looked at Cappy.  We ate another jam sandwich each and just stood there watching in mesmerized hunger until (Grandma) started lifting out the fry breads.  Then we each took a plate and stood beside her.  She took the hot fry breads out of the bubbling lard with tongs and put the lumpy golden rounds on our plates.  We said thank you.  She wanted and peppered the meat.  She dumped in a can of tomatoes, a can of beans.  We kept standing there, our plates out.  She heaped spoons of the crumbled meat mix on top of the fry breads.  On the table, there was a block of commodity cheese.  The cheese was frozen so it was easy to grate on top of the meat.  We were so hungry we sat down right at the table.  Zack and Angus were outside, through her sliding doors, in the courtyard.  She made their Indian tacos now like ours, called them in, and they sat on the couch and ate.

Menu

The passage above provides plenty of fodder, excuse the pun, but if you want more options there are plenty more.  Banana bread, chili with hamburger meat, tomato paste, Rotel and cumin, bannock (flat bread), Juneberry jam.  As the weather has intermittently turned colder here, I’d go with the fry bread, chili and juneberry jam over vanilla ice cream.

Fry Bread

1 pkg. dry yeast

3 cups warm water

1 tbsp. salt

1 tbsp. sugar

6 cups flour

2 tbsp. oil

1/2 cup cornmeal

Dissolve yeast in warm water then add salt and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes covered with a towel.  Add flour and oil to liquid mixture.  Mix and put on floured bread board and knead until mixture is smooth.  Put dough in a greased bowl, cover with towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from bowl and put on bread board, knead in the 1/2 cornmeal.  Make dough into 2 balls rolling each into 12 inch circles 1/2 inch thick.  Cut into 2 inch squares and drop into hot cooking oil.  (Works best with cast iron skillet.)  Fry 5 to 6 pieces at a time for only a few moments.  Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with white powdered sugar.

Bannock recipe, if you want to try it:  http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bannock/

Juneberry jam can be ordered here:  http://store.dakotaseasonings.com/wild-juneberry-jam/

MUSIC

The Round House is set in 1988 so you could go with the hits of that year.  Faith by George Michael was the top song that year, believe it or not.  Egad.

Joe’s uncle Whitey loves The Rolling Stones and that’s never a bad choice.  I’d go with Some Girls, Emotional Rescue or Tattoo You, all released in the early 80s.

    I’m not even going to try to name any appropriate movie actors other than for Linden Lark and for Father Travis.

Linden Lark:  Matt Damon

Father Travis:  Brad Pitt

Happy Reading!

Breaking from the Post

There’s a snow storm raging in Roanoke, VA.  It is as warm in Bloomington, IN as it is in Hilton Head; only it’s not pouring rain in Bloomington.  Despite the April calendar date, March lilies are in bloom and tulips have yet to appear.  In Daytona Beach, it’s cloudy and rainy and undoubtedly hoards of high school seniors are drowning their tanless sorrows in beer bongs.

But in Central Kentucky, a spring tradition will begin tomorrow that cannot be stopped by wind, rain, sleet or hail.  Keeneland, the most beautiful and historic thoroughbred race course in the nation, opens tomorrow.  Weather prognosticators (aka The Wise Men from the East) are predicting a beautiful spring day.  But even if there is snow, Keeneland will open.  The sleek long muscles of the thoroughbreds will twitch at the trumpeter’s call to the post.  The high-brows will swagger into the club house in Spring’s newest fashions.  The fraternity and sorority kids will stumble into the gates of the grandstand alongside the working men and women, the everyday sportsman, the bookies and the occasional owner or trainer not willing to put on a tie for the day.  The green-coated Keeneland employees will polish their smiles.  The tote board will light and the bell will sound.  The horses will break from the post, thundering past the screaming crowd, betting tickets clutched tightly in their fists for luck.  And down the stretch they will come.

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And officially, weather or no, in Central Kentucky, Spring will have arrived.

There are some wonderful books about thoroughbreds and racing.  My two favorites are Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand and Wild Ride, by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach.  People are familiar with Seabiscuit because of the movie.  Wild Ride is about the legendary Calumet farm, and the gorgeous, glorious and tragic story of Alydar, the horse who finished second to Affirmed in all three of the Triple Crown races, but outshone him by the million in the breeding shed.

A song list for Keeneland’s opening day:

Fugue for TInhorns (I Got the Horse Right Here), from Guys and Dolls

Run for the Roses, Dan Fogelberg

Up on Cripple Creek, The Band

Bottle of Smoke, The Pogues

Beer for My Horses, Tobey Keith & Willie Nelson

If I Had a Horse, Lyle Lovett

And a couple for sentimental reasons that are sort of about horses and sort of about love.  But maybe that’s all the same thing anyway.

Wild Horses, The Rolling Stones

A Horse in the Country, The Cowboy Junkies

The perfect menu for Keeneland opening day:

Steamed asparagus, country ham on beaten biscuits, corn pudding and strawberries.

Serve with your choice of champagne or bourbon and branch water.

Here’s the Shakertown Corn Pudding Recipe:

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon salt

3 eggs, slightly beaten

2 cups frozen corn

1 3/4 cup milk

Blend butter, sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add eggs and beat with rotary mixer on low.  Add corn, chopping it a little to release the milky juice.

Pour into a flat, 10 x 6″ casserole and bake at 325 for 45 minutes, stirring once, halfway through the baking.

When done, the pudding will be golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the middle will come out cleanly.

(Another menu with recipes for Mint Juleps and Derby Pie: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/the-first-saturday-in-may/)

Happy Reading! (Or Racing)

 

 

Waiting

Waiting.  Not my favorite activity.  If a passive verb like “wait” can even be considered an activity.

But waiting seems to be the thematic element in my world today.  I’m waiting on the editors and agent to read my manuscripts.  I’m waiting on spring — we are all waiting on spring!  UK fans are waiting on next basketball season.  I’m waiting on the US Attorney’s office to get back to me on a case.  Waiting on the mail.  Waiting on a check.  

It’s hard to be good at waiting.  Americans in particular seem hard-wiredly disinclined to wait.  In the words of Veruca Salt, we want it now, Daddy!  But whether it’s a check, a romance, a basketball season, a new recruit or a book deal, sometimes I can’t have it now so the choice becomes either to wait or to give up on it.

There’s a wonderful novel called Embers, written in 1942 by Sandor Marai, but rediscovered and published in English only in the year 2000 that delves into the exquisite passion of waiting for years to confront, resolve and avenge a wrong.  On a snowy day like today, it’s the perfect read.

I decided to add song lists to my blog topics in addition to photos and menus, when appropriate.  Some of my favorite songs about waiting:

Watching the Wheels, John Lennon

Waiting on a Girl Like You, Foreigner

Waiting on a Friend, Rolling Stones

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

 

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