There is something so irresistible about the idea of easy money. Whether you’re stealing it, winning it, or earning it in your artisanal pop-up meth lab, the wish fulfillment fantasy that surrounds a surprise windfall is one of the best fairy tales there is. In a jackpot culture, where multi-state lotteries make national news, how humans deal with unexpected largesse reveals everything about their character. We all like to think we would behave selflessly and generously if put in that situation. I’m sure YOU would be angelic. You seem really nice. But let’s face it, greedy jerks are more interesting to read about. Characters looking for easy money make bad choices leading to dumber choices leading to fleeing down a beanstalk from a ticked-off giant with a stolen bag of gold coins, or fleeing from the criminals that financed a view of the green light on Daisy’s dock, or fleeing from a ticked-off giant with a stolen bling-flinging goose.
Me: I don’t like to criticize
Me: but maybe a softer target
Jack: go big and go home
Me: you’re doing that saying wrong
Take free money, add awkward family dynamics, and you have the inheritance cluster rodeo that is The Nest, Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s new book about four adult siblings squabbling over a pending trust fund payout in present-day New York City. The life-long promise of the money coming from the fund (nicknamed the Nest) gets this family completely twisted. Sweeney completely nails the arrested development that dogs inter-sibling-ary relationships and the self-destructive fallout that results from spending your chickens before they hatch. It’s funny, moving, and almost painfully real.
Jack: Spending your geese before they hatch
Me: That is your waterfowl bias talking
Some books hook me with beautifully crafted language. Some grab me with a wickedly twisted plot. And some, like The Nest, get under my skin with characters so well-conceived that it feels like the author isn’t writing fiction but instead recording notes on an anthropological expedition. The entitled siblings in The Nest are so self-absorbed and selfish that it stressed me out. My favorite is Leo, the jackassiest of all jackass brothers who ever jackassed–but really, all of these siblings are spectacularly jackassy. Sweeney creates some really squirm-inducing decision-making, so much so that I (allegedly) tried to reason out loud with the people in the book. Because yelling “STOP WHYYY ARE YOU DOING THAT” is the best way to get results out of your fiction. No matter how much I tried to get their attention, the characters in the book ignored me, so I managed my discomfort by engaging in some positive visualization. That’s right: I pretended won the latest billion dollar jackpot, then I fake spent my imaginary winnings in the most humanitarian, saintly way possible. Step aside, Mother Theresa.
Jack: Are you upset because a giant is chasing you
Jack: I get upset when giants chase me
Me: Omg a giant isn’t chasing me
Jack: I’m saying, it’s upsetting
Relief Map The Nest spends a lot of time detailing the endless search for the perfect real estate. Buying in an up-and-coming neighborhood at the bottom of the market is sexier than Chris Hemsworth cuddling a golden retriever puppy while saying you were the best one in the threesome. Self-worth is enmeshed with having the ideal street address. I get it. If I had all the money in the world to spend, I’d want my custom-built domicile to reflect exactly who I am. You guessed it – my dream property is a personalized water park. Not only will it have state-of-the-art waterslides, it will have a connecting waterslide around the perimeter so I can waterslide to each waterslide. Because it’s a water park. Not a walk-on-dry-land-to-get-to-water park.
Pressed For Time The most prevalent lottery fantasy is using your new money to buy your way out of your least favorite chore. Yes, I could feed the hungry or open a school, but is that going to get me out of doing laundry for the rest of my life? FOOLED YOU that’s a rhetorical question. The Nest characters hope to use their windfall to retire early and that’s okay, I guess. I hope to build a dry cleaners in my backyard. I’m undecided if I need to hire someone to stand at my back door collect my laundry every day. I don’t want the neighbors to think I’m too diva to walk to my dry cleaners.
Check It Out The siblings in The Nest struggle because they all have a severe case of keeping up with the Joneses. The emphasis on having the right clothes, the right kind of house, all the cachet of a Manhattan life, costs them. I’m above this kind of conspicuous consumption, of course, and that I why my final act of lottery boom spending will be building a library. It will be just like the Library of Congress only bigger and better and I get my own parking space. It will also have hammocks because I like to recline when I am reading.
Since I am fresh out of beanstalks, and my chances of winning the lottery are infinitesimal, I am sadly reconciling myself to a simple life of doing my own laundry and annual waterslide rides. I’m all set to work hard, save, and invest. As a backup plan, I’ve got a friend who has promised to show me how to spin straw into gold.
Jack: Bad idea
Me: Says a guy who baits giants
A Book Of Giants by Ruth Manning Sanders is a collection of European fairy tales about giants. Because you need a book of fairy tales and it should be about giants.