Wednesday, July 19, 2017

"The Heirs," by Susan Rieger

“The Heirs” (Crown, 2017), by Susan Rieger, is another compelling novel about family, the kind I like, but a rather chilly one. Not chilling (there is suspense, but not of the scary variety), but chilly. This is mainly because several of the main characters are rather contained, with their own secrets, and their belief that one doesn’t make a fuss or show too much feeling, and one certainly doesn’t have to tell everyone (even one’s own spouse) everything. Rupert Falkes, who was an orphan in England but was able to get a good education and make some good connections, arrives in New York with not much money, but eventually makes his way, and marries the lovely and witty Eleanor. Rupert is successful, the couple has five talented sons, and the family makes a good and very comfortable life (big apartment, private schools and Princeton educations for the children, etc.) for themselves in Manhattan. But when Rupert dies after decades of marriage, a woman claims she had an affair with him a long time ago, and had two sons by him; she sues his estate for what she claims is their share of his money. (This happens very early in the novel, not to mention being the first thing on the front cover flap, so I am definitely not giving away too much of the plot here!) Eleanor takes this with surprising poise, but some of her sons are more upset. This surprising event brings many stresses to the fore, although despite it all, the family stays strong. Gradually the past becomes clearer, and of course it is more complicated than any one side of the story. I found this novel carried me along with interest; the writing is very good, and the author clearly is in complete control of her gifts and of the story. The descriptions of Manhattan and life in the upper middle class there seem to me spot on (of course what I know about that is based on a few visits over the years but mostly on all the many novels set in Manhattan that I have read!). So yes, “The Heirs” features slightly chilly characters, but a satisfying story with enjoyable twists and turns. The front flap copy concludes that this novel “is a tale out of Edith Wharton for the twenty-first century”; I wouldn’t go that far, but there is a whiff of truth in that claim.

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