Skip to main content

The Heirs by Susan Rieger

Novelist Susan Rieger is a graduate of Columbia Law School. She served as Dean of one of Yale University's residential colleges and as Associate Provost at Columbia University.  Her 2014 debut novel, The Divorce Papers, about the progression of one woman's divorce and another woman's legal career, is told in a series of personal and professional snippets rather than in a more typical linear narrative format. It is clever, engaging, enjoyable and often very funny.

Rieger's new novel, The Heirs is different in tone and in theme from The Divorce Papers.  Instead of divorce, we have a 300-page upper class family saga.  Rupert Falkes, a British orphan who attends Cambridge University on a scholarship and comes to America in search of a new life, graduates from Yale Law School and becomes a highly-regarded lawyer at one of New York's most prestigious law firms. Rupert's wife Eleanor comes from "that class of New Yorker whose bloodlines were traced in the manner of racehorses."  Eleanor and Rupert raise five sons on Manhattan's Upper West Side: Harry, a lawyer; Will, a Hollywood agent; Sam, a medical researcher; Jack, a genius musician; and Tom, a federal prosecutor. All five attend Princeton. In the aftermath of Rupert's death, his wife and his sons learn that Rupert may or may not have left behind a mistress and two illegitimate sons. This news throws the family into disarray, as each member of the clan responds differently to the allegations.

Several reviewers have commented that the book has the feel and tone of an Edith Wharton novel set in the 21st century. The story of Rupert, Eleanor and the "Five Famous, Fierce, Forceful, Faithful, Fabled, Fortunate, Fearless Falkeses" is told with humor, precision and grace.  Rieger's prose made me like these people.  I found myself wishing that I were part of the family's extended clan, or at the very least, that I knew them a little.

"If any of them was late for dinner -- dinner was a command performance most nights, seven o'clock with five minutes' grace, like the theatre -- he had a cheese sandwich in the kitchen. Once, there was a palace revolution. They all tripped in at seven thirty. They found the dinner table cleared. Eleanor was in the kitchen putting out the ingredients for cheese sandwiches on the counter. 'See you later,' she said. She and Rupert went downstairs to the Cafe. They next night she served cheese sandwiches for dinner. 'If you're going to be late,' she said, 'I don't see the point of serving a proper dinner.' The revolution was suppressed." (p.141)

Ultimately, The Heirs is about how impossible it is to know everything about another person, no matter how close you have been to that person, and in a way, perhaps that's for the best. At one point, in speaking about her son Harry, Eleanor notes that "he's re-writing his entire life up until yesterday." The novel does the same for its readers, re-writing our understanding of the past and in so doing, shifting the way we feel about each member of the Falkes family. There is love, there is money, there is sex.  But there is also a close-knit group of people shaken by death.  And in the writing, there is charm and wit. As Kirkus notes in its starred review, "just in time for poolside reading, this elegant novel wears its intelligence lightly."


Popular posts from this blog

The 2018 Women's Prize for Fiction Longlist

March is Women's History Month, and Thursday, March 8th was International Women's Day. So it is timely and appropriate that the 2018 longlist for The Women's Prize for Fiction was released on Wednesday, March 7th. The Women's Prize for Fiction is an award that celebrates the best full-length fiction written each year by women. The idea for the Prize stemmed from the release of the 1991 Booker Prize shortlist, which did not include a single novel written by a woman. Although in the early 1990s, 60% of the novels published in the United Kingdom were written by women, by 1992 only 10% of the novelists ever to appear on the Booker Prize shortlist had been female The Women's Prize for Fiction was developed in response to this disparity. It was first awarded in 1996 (then known as the Orange Prize for Fiction) and is the United Kingdom's most prestigious annual book award for fiction written by a woman.

The judging panel for The Women's Prize for Fiction is made…

Winter by Ali Smith

Winter is the season when nature lies dormant, when the light is at its low point, when the world seems dead. Ali Smith's captivating new novel, Winter, begins with an extraordinary list of all the things that are "dead," which seems to encompass everything -- "God was dead: to begin with," Smith writes, and not just God, but chivalry, history, the welfare state, neoliberalism, hope, TV, marriage, flowers, religion, the media, the internet and love. But if there is anything Winterisn't, it's dead. Like the rest of this wonderful novel, this list of supposedly dead things is filled with vitality, word play and teasing fun.

Ali Smith was born in Inverness, Scotland in 1962. She is the author of nine novels and five short story collections. Her first collection of short stories, Free Love and Other Stories, won the Saltire First Book Award in 1995. Her second novel, Hotel World, won three awards and was shortlisted for both the Orange Prize and the Man Bo…

A Sense of Place

Teresa Kristan remembers when the Wallingford Public Library was located down the block, where the Library Wine Bar and Bistro now holds pride of place at 60 North Main Street.  She remembers because she worked there and because her grandfather was a custodian for the library several decades ago. Teresa is an ardent baseball fan, so summer is an especially good time for her. She is both a Circulation Librarian and a Reference Librarian at the library, and she is one of the four library staff members currently stocking the Staff Picks display in the North Main Book Nook. Teresa's bio on the Staff Picks display includes this sentence: "If I could have read in the living womb, I would've, but the light was bad." She has a lot to say about books and reading, and she shares some thoughts below:

I was thinking about a different sense of place that I get when I read, not where the book or article is set, but where I am while I'm reading it.

There's a sweet children…