The Heirs by Susan Rieger
I wasn't terribly interested in reading this book, based on the subject matter alone — it's about a wealthy, WASP-y family (with five sons who refer to themselves as — and I quote — the "Five Famous, Fierce, Forceful, Faithful, Fabled, Fortunate, Fearless Falkeses" — that moniker alone made me want to put the book down). We've established that an inordinate percentage of lauded "literature" revolves around the trials and tribulations of privileged white men and frankly, at this point, I'm just tired. The thought of reading about SIX privileged white men (the Five... Falkes + their dad) made me feel really tired.
But — but! — I decided to give the book a shot and, lo and behold, I was rapidly hooked, despite myself. Rieger writes with spare — even brusque — sentences and the pace leaves no time for weariness. After the first few pages (in which we immediately discover that patriarch Rupert Falkes is dying, and then get a high-speed account of his blue-blood wife Eleanor's back story) I found myself thinking, "She's just telling us everything, straight up! How in the world is Rieger going to keep this up for 254 pages?"
But she does! We soon find ourselves immersed in the kinds of conflicts rich people encounter, like a posthumous paternity claim, unrequited love, mid-life crises, anti-Semitic in-laws (almost all of which can be solved by $$$). To me, the magic of the book is that I loved reading it, even though I didn't truly care about anyone's problems, and that's simply a credit to Rieger's clever writing. I love her way of taking any overwrought drama out of the soap opera-worthy storylines; the cool absence of emotion is, remarkably, delightful. Rieger just tell it like it is, tongue firmly in cheek.
It's not a perfect book. Most notably, the Five Famous... Falkes are faintly ridiculous two-dimensional stereotypes. To be honest, I still can't tell you which one Tom is. (The trumpet player? The nice one? Or is that Will? There IS a Tom, right?) I didn't care enough about them to keep the characters straight, not did I particularly want to hang out with any of them. I definitely didn't want to hang out with oldest-child Harry. But Eleanor and Rupert — and their marriage — are endlessly fascinating. I loved that no one really understands Eleanor, but no one can help but admire her. She reminds me of a warmer take on Clarissa Dalloway (a good thing, in my book).
All in all, The Heirs is fun but smart — high-brow summer reading, the perfect pick for the beginning of summer break. Recommended!
I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review. All opinions are my own.