F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” In Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, PEN Center USA Fiction Award winner Ramona Ausubel explores that theme quite handily.
This ideal summer novel grapples with a Tolstoyan knapsack overflowing with Serious Themes: Love. Betrayal. Death. Wealth. Privilege. War. Coming of Age. And yet, Ausubel has nimbly managed to capture these in miniature, a mini solar system that orbits around the dollar, with a fluctuating gravitational pull that shapes and distorts all the objects in its sphere.
Make no mistake: Edgar and Fern Keating, the book’s protagonists, are easy to dislike. Not only are they suffused with the treacly bouquet of kids whose safety net allowed them to try on hardship as a fashion statement, but they make some staggeringly irresponsible choices. Long story short, the trust-fund babies’ trust fund runs out, and they are thrown into an existential crisis, to which they respond in unpredictable ways.
As the novel bounces back and forth in time (from 1966 to 1976), Ausubel peels away the layers of Edgar’s and Fern’s personae, offering nonjudgmental insight into the events that shaped them and their chosen trajectories. By the end of it all, anyone not rooting for the couple (and their irrepressible daughter, Cricket) to pull off an overtime win needs to look more within themselves than toward the author, who has stitched together an affecting and quietly powerful character study of people who are different than you and me.