Friday, April 21, 2017

The Nest

Should I apologize to my community book club right now? I selected The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney to be our May book club title. I'm wondering how my fellow book club members will feel about this book? 

When I first finished reading this debut novel this afternoon, my first inclination was to give it 4 stars. I mean, it kind of held my attention and it took place in New York City and it was a quick read. Then I realized those aren't reasons to give a book 4 stars.

The book was published with great acclaim. A terrific debut novel about a dysfunctional New York family. (Don't people from outside of NYC think that most families in New York are dysfunctional? Okay... don't answer that.)

The more I thought about the book, the more I reconsidered my 4 stars rating. Within an hour, I'd revised my rating down to 3 stars.

What did I like about the book? Well, yes, I loved that it took place in New York City with a lot of the story taking place in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is hot. Why shouldn't a new book take place there?

What else did I like? I liked the language that Ms. Sweeney used. She did a great job painting pictures with her words. Her descriptions of places allowed me to picture them in my mind. Her descriptions of people, not so much so.

I also liked the way she juggled plots and subplots. At first I found it overwhelming to keep all the stories and interactions straight. But once I was able to do that, I really did marvel at how many balls she had in the air at the same time. There was the main sibling story, the different relationship stories - old lovers, gay lovers, sisters, business partners... just to name a few. As each story ball was thrown into the air, I was jolted a bit, surprised... like... wow... another subplot. For me, that worked.

I also liked the way the author linked the stories of the various characters together. The girl who was involved with The Nest not being what the siblings always planned on it being becomes connected with the tenant in Stephanie's house. Stephanie who was Bea's first literary agent and Leo's current lover. 

I was surprised by a 9-11 related story. Living in the NYC area during 9-11, that story struck a chord with me. I also double-checked. And when the towers collapsed, there really were sculptures by Rodin missing... including The Kiss... which has a pretty prominent role in this novel.

I liked the premise of the book. The splitting up of an inheritance amongst 4 siblings. (I'm still going through the settling of my parents' estates.)

That's what I liked. What didn't I like?

I didn't like the characters. None of them. Not a single one. The Plumb siblings were horrid, each one worse than the next. I don't think a single one of them was anyone that I'd want to know. (And thankfully in real life I don't believe I do know anyone like any of them.) The mother, Francie, who was thrown into the story at random times and seemed truly awful was never mentioned by the siblings. How can that be? Do none of them besides the youngest, Melody, have any inkling that their mother really damaged them?

Even though the father (who left the legacy of The Nest to his children to inherit on the 40th birthday of the youngest child) was a successful businessman, I never got the impression that the family was raised with any great wealth. The Nest wasn't that large (I don't think) when the father first died. But it was invested well and grew to a vast sum in the ensuing years. Then the kids counted their chickens before they hatched. They spent the money they imagined they'd be getting. 

There was a divorced charismatic sibling. There was a gay married sibling. There was a "smart" single sibling. And there was a miserably married sibling. I guess stereotypes work in novels about dysfunctional families.

... and everyone but Leo lived happily ever after. Well, maybe Leo lived happily ever after, too. But the rest of the characters and their relationships ended up tied up in an unrealistic, tidy way. I'm not sure I like that.

At the end of the story when Melody is asked if she likes her daughter Nora's friend, Simone, her answer makes it sound as if she thinks Simone might be okay. As a character, I didn't like Simone. And as a mother, I really wouldn't like her as a friend for my daughter. And not for the reasons you might think. I just didn't like her. And where the heck were her parents?

It's harder to list the things I didn't like about the book without giving away some of the story than I thought it would be.

Would I recommend it? Probably not. But if you like books set in New York City about 40-somethings living beyond their means, you might enjoy this book.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Outlander #7

What to say about An Echo in the Bone, Diana Gabaldon's seventh installment in the Outlander series? Similar to the first book, it leaves so many unanswered questions making me want to rush to read the eighth book. The eighth book is currently the last book in the series, although Gabaldon is making progress on the 9th book. Will the 9th book be the final book?

Anyway, back to An Echo in the Bone. I don't even know where to begin. The book begins with Brianna and Roger adapting to their new lives in the "present" time. Brianna finds a box full of letters written by Claire and Jamie in the 1700s. I can't recall where Brianna found the box of letters, but they are very special to her. She and Roger do a good job of taking their time to read the letters. This keeps the connection between the centuries strong. Claire is truly writing to Brianna in the future, letting her know what is/was going on after Brianna returned to her own time.

Other than that... this book seemed to cover the most and had the most parallel stories compared to any of the other books. There were the Claire and Jamie stories. Claire does so many surgeries and procedures on the fly. Amazing! Gave me a lot to think about. There were Brianna and Roger stories, adapting to live in Scotland of the present in addition to connecting to their life in the 18th century. A character from the 18th century who has haunted Roger somehow shows up in the 20th century. Roger and Brianna are part of both work stories and personal stories. The kids, Mandy and Jem, have their own stories as well. (The Mandy and Jem stories are those that have me the most curious as I take a break between novels.) We've got Lord John's stories (several of them) which are completely distinct from much of the William stories. William as a soldier. William as a cousin. William as a son. We've also got Ian's story... which is a big, big story in this novel. Actually, Ian has stories. He falls in love... and he reconciles with his parents in Scotland. So many of these subplots intersect, with the long list of characters becoming more intertwined than they have been in the past. There's a Fergus story or two. There's an interesting Laoghaire story. Yes, this book is very involved.

With all that was going on, I was surprised that it wasn't terribly difficult to pick up the book and put it back down again. But as I've mentioned earlier, I would be hard pressed to tell you what was covered in this book. Was there anything I didn't like? No. I liked it all. I have no complaints. Yet I'm still struggling to figure out what to write about.

I've realized that I know a whole lot less about the American Revolution than I probably should. I was so focused on getting through the book, though, that I didn't drift off to do research about the Battle of Saratoga when I was in Saratoga last week. Surprising since that's something I'd normally do. As always, it is so cool to read a book while you're in the exact location where the book is set. So cool And yes, I'm a history geek.

When I went to Philadelphia later in the week and saw that a museum of the American Revolution was opening at the end of the month, I was disappointed, wanting it to be opened the day I was there. Wanting to be inside that building so badly. Wanting to learn more about the Revolution the way only a visit can help you do.

My other disappointment while in Philadelphia was the weather. Had the weather been better, I would have explored a few more of the places mentioned in the book by foot. With the horrendous rain we experienced, I was lucky that I go to see the outside of the new museum, take a stroll past Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. I wondered where Lord John's house was in Philadelphia. Had I wandered past it without even knowing? Is there a Philadelphia companion book to the Outlander series? Diana Gabaldon, are you reading this? Is this something you'd be interested in doing? I'd love to work on a project like that with you.

Having nothing to do with the book
(For the first time ever, I saw the Rocky statue. Totally getting off track here but this is a very big deal. I was attending school and living in Philadelphia when the Rocky movies first hit the screen. I've been to Philadelphia numerous times over the years. And this was the first visit to the Art Museum since the late 1970s and my very first time to see the statue. Just my luck, the steps to the museum were "closed" to prepare for the NFL draft which will take place there at the end of the month.)

Was this the longest book in the series in terms of word count? I don't think so. I'm not 100% sure, but it sure felt like this book took me the longest time of any of the books to read. Since book 9 most likely won't be published until 2018 at the earliest, I think I'm going to take my break from the series now, knowing that I can pick up book 8 whenever I want. If I read book 8 soon, I know there will be a big wait for book 9. One of the advantages of being late to the game of reading a massive series is being able to read on my own schedule rather than waiting (with longing) for the next installment to be published. Only those of you who read these types of series will understand that!

Good job, Diana Gabaldon for keeping me (and millions of other readers) engaged for so long!

I'll end with some questions I have at the end of An Echo in the Bone which I don't believe are spoilers.

  • Where is Roger?
  • Where will Jamie and Claire settle next?
  • Will they ever return to Fraser's Ridge in North Carolina?
  • What will William do next?
  • Will Ian ever find happiness?
  • What does Jenny think about America?
  • Any more time travel for anyone?
  • Who wins the war? Okay... only kidding.