The Nest

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If you lean too far to conservative or traditional values this may not be the book for you. Aside from that, the first thing I noticed, right away, from the beginning, was the long, drawn-out, extremely wordy yet somewhat sophisticated, seemingly inappropriate and probably incorrect but somehow still readable sentence structure that made me go back and read several times to make sure I didn't miss a period. (Yes, the preceding sentence is my own imitation of Sweeney's style.)

This book seems to be receiving quite a bit of attention which led me to believe that a lot of people were wowed by it. I was not. It is a nice book - not a waste of time but nothing to write home about. I read the eBook.

On page 12 we get the first hint at the meaning of the title as a sum of money tucked away somewhere. On page 16 we get another reference but still not a clear picture. On page 18 we get the third, vague reference. At the beginning of Ch. 2 we finally get the detailed explanation of what the nest is.

There seem to be a lot of characters in this novel - some of which we probably didn't need. At the end of Ch. 2 we are introduced to Francie who is again referenced in Ch. 4 where there is a subtle confirmation that she is the mother although she is most often referred to by her children using her first name. There are four siblings - as the novel is set Leo is 46, Jack 44, Bea 43 and Melody is about to turn 40. There was so much time between character development it was hard to remember the backstory of all of them. Sometimes I had to search the eBook to figure out who a character was when they appeared infrequently.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 4

Religion: 0

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 1

Morality: 2

Traditional: 2

Sex - vague memories of a wife's escapades with a deceased husband (p. 45) A single woman gets her vibrator from the drawer but the batteries are dead. (p. 150) Straight-out comment on the size of a man's anatomy. (p. 158) PTA moms discuss trading favors in exchange for a renovation or vacation. (p. 171) A wife vaguely imagines catching her husband with the realtor. (p. 174) Ch. 20 is full of discussion and rather graphic details about a girl on girl relationship.

Religion - I don't recall any religious references

Gruesome - Nothing to mention

Suspense - Ch. 6 ends with "an enormous crash...flickering lights. Then darkness." It seemed suspenseful but was never directly explained - only referred to later as a power outage. Will they find Leo? is the suspenseful theme that runs through this novel but it is not a leading driver.

Morality - the Prologue is full of inappropriate behavior between a married man and a 19 year old hottie and ends with a bang. This sets the tone for this character and essentially the book. Lots of spouses and significant others keeping secrets from their partners. Drinking and drug use - not only from the character you most expect but also from one who seems very straight-laced. Leo pursues Stephanie in spite of her assertion that she didn't want to be involved again. A media company operates a soft-adult site to maintain revenue. (p. 81) Jack got a little preachy in a Ch. 17 soliloquy.

Traditional - (this is a new section because noting homosexual activities doesn't necessarily fit under sex and it is judgmental to put it under religion or morality. So this section will note how the book aligns with good-old-fashioned traditional values and lifestyles.) Two significant homosexual relationships. (ex. p. 130) Frequent instances of rougher language. One-half of one couple reflects that his parents "intermittently practiced open marriage and dabbled in bisexuality". (p. 154)

Discussion Questions

Which sibling was your favorite? Which character are you most like?

How does the author use the red ballet flat on pages 10 and 17 to contrast Melody with her brother, Jack?

With their phones left in their lockers, the twins had to print maps and couldn't take selfies. (p. 27)

Would your children be able to navigate the world without their phones? Would you?

The "Nest" is said to have been made possible because the father created synthetic polymers. (p. 32)

How much impact did this fictional character's true invention have on your life? (feminine products, diapers, meat tray liners)

"Francie's decline meant they were all declining." (p. 42) Have you witnessed the decline of your parents?

How has it affected you?

Was it fair that some of the nest was used for Leo's rehab and legal troubles? (p. 43) Is it fair that he also receive a sum of money? "Leo is forty-six." (p. 44) Jack recognizes that Leo got himself into the situation.

(p. 45) How much help is a grown man entitled to?

On pages 45 and 46 Francie reflects on the personalities of her children. How accurate were her interpretations? How did it shape them? On page 47, aside from physical characteristics, she realizes she doesn't recognize any of them. Have you ever found your children unrecognizable? How did you handle it?

Bea continues to believe in Leo when others were ready to give up. How many chances should people get? What is the probability that someone would make such a change?

In the novel, not all of the siblings communicated well with each other (p. 52). What is the structure like in your family? Do all siblings communicate?

When in his presence, the siblings seem to be in awe of him however privately they may loathe him. (p. 70) Do you know anyone like this? How do you handle them?

Did Paul love Bea, or admire her? (p. 85) How are these words connected? Interchangeable?

Were you suspicious of Tommy (Stephanie's downstairs neighbor)? What did you think he was hiding?

Ronnie (Tommy's wife) said, "Appearances count. If you want people to judge you based on the inside, don't distract them from the outside." (p. 109) Tommy remembered her saying after he'd remembered how she looked in her tight skirt and red shoes. Is this contradictory?

Share your best tips for economizing. (p. 117)

Melody was troubled by worries. What things worry you / keep you up at night? (p. 118) What developmental decisions did you make with your children that you regret or that still concern you?

What do you miss most about life before kids? (p. 119)

Melody felt she was nothing before her children were born. The moms she listened to thought differently.

(p. 120) Were you more of somebody before or after your children were born?

Bea contemplated her dreams of Tucker. (p. 142) Discuss dreams and their meanings.

Bea felt like she had nothing to show for her life. (p. 145) Can you account for your life?

Bea's family didn't know she owned her apartment. (p. 146) Do you share things like that with your family?

"Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away." (p. 147) Did you recognize the line from "The Great Gatsby"?

On page 153 Jack reflects on activism and campus politics. Were you an activist in college? For what causes? How do you feel about those causes now? On page 154 he turns his thoughts towards patriotism. Do you agree with Jack's ideas regarding 9/11 happening because of who Americans are in the world, "Not in spite of it". What causes annoy you?

Mirrors play a significant role in advice given from two different characters. Simone told Nora that "being somebody else's not your job. (p. 180) Vinnie uses a mirror to help Matilda. What advice from this book do you need to reflect onto your own life?

Are you a person who collects talismans from the dead, like Jack? (p. 224) What item is your most treasured?

On pg. 238 Leo and Stephanie have an argument. Later, Leo wished he could take back saying Matilda was "old enough". Stephanie wished she could take back that no one would care. Which was worse? Which would make more of a difference or change the outcome if it hadn't been said?

Can you see a bifurcation in your life like Leo could? (p. 240)

It seems incongruous that people that have enough money to have a nest also have a junk drawer. (p. 255)

Is there a junk drawer in every house, no matter the economic level?

Melody specified what kind of celebration she wanted for her birthday - even though it usually didn't happen.

(p. 258) Do you request your own celebration?

Walker felt the Nest was infantile and dysfunctional. (p. 260) Was it?

What did Tommy's wife have to do with the statue, exactly? Was that clear in the story? In what way was Tommy trying to avoid putting his kids through "another loss surrounding their mother"? (p. 320)

Do you think Melody will regret not saving anything from the house but the growth chart? (p. 330)

Should Paul have told Bea that he saw Leo in the bodega? (p. 343)

How do you feel when you discover a case of mistaken identify? What does it show about Leo that he was angry at the stranger whom he mistook for someone else? (p. 345)

Was Lilian a good name choice for the baby, especially considering the reference to the mantle? (p. 349)

Theme Ideas

Play an SAT word game.

Serve oysters or oyster stew (p. 51).

Serve ice cream like Leo and Stephanie before the power went out (p. 64).

Serve "cheap Prosecco and waxy cubes of cheese and gluten-free cupcakes" like one of the holiday parties Paul attended (p. 81).

Decorate with a replica of Rodin's "The Kiss". (p. 104)

Serve "lemon cake or blueberry muffins or some gooey cinnamon confection called monkey bread (Melody's favorite)" like she remembered from her Mom's group. (p. 119)

Serve pizza and chocolate cake like when Walt and Melody first met. (p. 120) Or serve pizza because Vinnie had a pizza restaurant. (p. 131)

Bea is a knitter (p. 146) and even knits during a family meeting. Invite the group to bring their needlework to do while you discuss the book.

Group Therapy: Are you still mortified by something from your school days? (p. 150) Write a limerick to get your power back. Share with the group.

Serve huevos rancheros, beef stew and French Onion soup like some of the dinners Leo made. (p. 165)

Play "Two Truths and a Lie" (p. 186) or describe yourself in four words (p. 188).

Serve the meal from Melody's birthday party: "A bit of bubbly, a gorgeous chicken scallopini, the coconut cake..." (p. 262) Decorate with votives lining the windowsill. (p. 261) Or serve pizza like Walt offered Melody after the birthday party suddenly ended. (p. 298)