Susan Rieger’s insightful second novel, following her acclaimed 2014 debut, The Divorce Papers, succeeds as a thoroughly engaging family saga and an incisive probe into the upper crust of Manhattan society—a slice of Edith Wharton transported to the 21st century.
Rupert Falkes is the patriarch of Rieger’s wealthy and privileged clan, and as the novel opens, he is dying of cancer. His marriage to Eleanor Phipps—from one of “New York’s Four Hundred families”—was a marriage “not of convenience, exactly, more of mutual benefit,” and love seemed to be too much for either of them to expect.
The couple raised five sons in quick succession: Harry, a Columbia law professor; Will, a successful Hollywood talent agent; Sam, a researcher of infectious disease; Jack, an accomplished jazz trumpeter; and Tom, a federal prosecutor. When Rupert dies, his sizable estate goes to these five, but then a woman from Rupert’s past comes forward to claim that he fathered her two grown sons, who also should be included in his estate.
Rieger delves into the backgrounds of her main characters, moving back and forth in time, gradually revealing snippets from their pasts. Each family member reacts in his or her own way to the possibility of two additional heirs—including Eleanor, who, without knowing the validity of the claim, feels that somehow the family “should do something for them.” Not all of Eleanor’s sons agree, and there is talk of DNA tests and hints of family secrets.
Rieger’s intimate look at this intriguing family is an erudite and witty take on a social circle that most readers can only imagine.