By Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
“Financial crisis fiction” doesn’t exactly have a pleasant ring to it, given that the recession of 2008-09 is still fresh for many. Yet it’s the subject of D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel, and pleasant it turns out to be. After a drug-fuelled car accident, Leo Plumb is hit with rehab, a high-profile divorce and a medical payout to a waitress without a foot. The family inheritance is drained to clean up his mess just when his siblings are in dire need of the cash. Melody, a timid suburban mom of twins, is hemorrhaging money to keep up with the Joneses. Jack, an antiques dealer, is leveraging his business to pay for a cottage—unbeknownst to his husband—and Beatrice, once a brief star in the literary scene, has had to pay back her advance. What follows is a series of desperate moves and scams in this story set among New York City’s leisure class.
Peppered throughout are NYC landmarks, as well as social and cultural milestones, from 9/11 to the AIDS crisis to the Iraq War, and the aforementioned financial crisis. Sweeney is adept at exploring the confused core of human motivation, particularly as it pertains to money. But events in the book are sometimes whitewashed of the real anguish and passion that accompanies them; the end in particular is so very tidy.
Sweeney’s own story is similarly devoid of real troubles (on her 50th birthday she applied for an M.F.A. on a whim; her thesis, this book, sparked a bidding war just four years later; the book boasts plugs from Amy Poehler and Elizabeth Gilbert on the back) and perhaps a reviewer is looking for gravitas in an entertaining book where none need be found.