Publishers pull out the big guns when they want to boost the head-turning quotient of a debut novel. They brag about paying seven figures for a book by an unknown writer — so it must be good! — and they plaster the early review copies with blurbs from high-profile celebrities.
That's just part of how Ecco is promoting Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney's "The Nest," and that kind of publicity piques the interest of book critics and readers who've heard the same song sung about countless debuts. So here are some thoughts on "The Nest," which I approached with equal parts skepticism and hope that this book would live up to the hype.
The story line is pedestrian but entertaining. Leo Plumb, one of four siblings at the story's center, is high on life and drugs and trawling for a woman to seduce at his cousin's wedding. He sets his sights on Mathilda Rodriguez, on the catering staff. Promising that he'll help her become a singing star, they take off in his Porsche and almost instantly are involved in a horrible crash.
Segue into the not-so-distant future, where Leo's siblings, Melody, Jack and Bea, are awaiting his arrival at a family meeting to talk about the Nest. That's the euphemism they use for the trust fund they were on the verge of receiving just before Leo's accident. Much of the money the Plumbs, in their 40s, were counting on went to Mathilda, who suffered a catastrophic loss in the accident.
Leo's sisters and brother are hoping that Leo can replenish the trust fund over time, but Leo has as many secrets as he does dollars stashed away, and he has no intention of sharing anything.
At this point, the novel invites us into the lives of Melody, Bea, Jack and Leo.
Melody, Jack and Bea are seriously in debt, having always banked on the Nest, which they assumed would eventually fall into their laps. The siblings' lives fall into stereotypical categories: Leo is selfish and narcissistic; Melody is a house-poor mom of twins; Jack has been hiding financial shenanigans from his partner, and Bea is frustrated in work and love. Sweeney rolls out their lives, exposes their secrets and then, predictably, allows each in his or her own way to discover what's truly valuable in life.
Whether "The Nest" joins the elite club of novels worth their weight in gold or, in this case, a shiny seven-figure deal, remains to be seen. With the right publicity, the combined hardcover sales, e-book downloads and paperback sales a year or two from now may earn Ecco its money back.
For now, I wouldn't bank on "The Nest" being a sure thing. It's well-written but not barrier-breaking and, like a promised financial windfall, may not add up to all you hoped it would be.
Memmott also reviews books for the Chicago Tribune and the Washington Post.