The Plumbs are a mess. Before his death, Leonard Plumb Sr. set up an inheritance fund for his four children, stipulating that they were only to receive this money once his youngest child, Melody, turned 40. This inheritance, colloquially dubbed “The Nest,” was meant to teach each of the children how to be self-sustaining throughout their adulthood, at which point they would be rewarded with an unknown amount of money. Leonard Sr.’s plan backfired. His children relied on the promise of “The Nest,” ignoring the ‘don’t count your chickens until they hatch’ mentality.
Leo, the eldest, opted for a life of drugs and a marriage that would cost him everything he owned. Bea had lost her savings by having to repay a publisher for the advance on a book she never got around to writing. Jack had troubles of his own; his business was costing more than it was worth with low sales and soaring rent prices, and he refuses to divulge this information to his long-time partner, Walker—even when he begins borrowing against his own beach cottage. The youngest, Melody, faces a common problem—her twin girls are about to graduate high school and she cannot afford to pay their tuition.
Estranged from one another due to the tension of past lies, the Plumbs have not sat down together in years. But when Leo’s drug problems lead to a life-threatening accident, the three other siblings are forced together in an effort to stop his reckless behaviour. Leo meets his siblings and the discussion quickly turns into a rehashing of the family issues that had torn them apart in the first place.
The Nest is Sweeney’s first novel, and it has gained immense popularity in part due to its ability to mirror the lives and struggles of many. The problems presented are relatable; the difficulties of divorce, the rising cost of tuition, insurmountable debt, and the divisive nature of money in general. These issues create fissures that often tear people apart. Readers will recognize the Plumb that most closely represents the state of their own lives, allowing them to empathize with the characters. It is easy to develop deep emotional connections with the characters, and the problems we all face, reassuring readers that their worries are valid and common and that they are not alone.
But empathy for the Plumbs is not enough to make for a successful novel. Without adding some hope to the characters’ situations, readers may not have the desire and thirst for change in their own lives. Knowing that there is a solution, that there is a possibility for circumstances to change, adds depth to a novel that should do more than simply tell familiar and relatable stories.
Sweeney presents Leo as a character with the most “important” problems, which overshadows the development of his other siblings. The Nest also introduces extraneous characters that are underdeveloped and inessential to the novel’s plot. At times, this can make the novel confusing, and detracts from its core message - if there is even a core message at all.
Although The Nest is beautifully written and an engaging read, the overall plot lacks substance. It seems that there is no conflict resolution at all, and we do not even become privy to the existence or importance of the Nest that the main characters seek out with such determination throughout the novel. What happens to Leo? What becomes of the Plumb sibling relationships? These unanswered questions will leave readers without closure, only confusion.