Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Plumb Family

View atop St Paul's Cathedral, London
In my line of work, I find it demeaning when potential clients shop around for lawyers who can give them the best discount on their legal fees for debt recovery work relating to their business, real property transactions and probate matters although such matters appear routine and straightforward until and unless they become contested. It is even more demoralizing to see that many lawyers compete by charging pittance for their work with the hope that they will get more work to cover their cost of running their law office. Everyone loves a good bargain and discounts attract clientele and customers. Many of us purchase things that we otherwise would not have spent money on and we have bought them because we feel that they are good buys. It is consumerism. I once thought professional services would be spared and I could not be more wrong. Good deals are sought after and value for money is the catch phrase if you want to sell something to the populace.

We live in a commercial world thus money plays a significant role in keeping us afloat. Simple and frugal living is a virtue as most of us have far from expansive  spending power. Due to rising cost of living, it is indeed a constant balancing act between our earnings and the lifestyle we want to upkeep.

I have a distant relative who has managed his finances well and retired early; he lives a comfortable and reasonably carefree lifestyle. His wife is a very capable woman who has a successful career and they have two sons and a daughter who are doctors training  to be specialists in their respective fields. They live the picture of a success story of first generation migrants in a foreign country. We keep in touch every now and then. Recently they were in town and they invited my family out for a meal with them. We got along fine and had a good laugh about things. My relative comes from a family of four children and most of them are doing seemingly well financially in their past retirement age. What surprises me was after my dinner, the other siblings of my relative regarded the kindliness showered by him and his wife carried some ulterior motive which baffles me. Like  many families, the siblings do not get on as well as they should be. Their dad, in his nineties, is one good example of a man of wealth who leads a frugal and simple life. He will definitely leave behind a sizeable inheritance for his children who probably feel the sense of entitlement even though they do not necessarily need the money. It would be a windfall. Every family, dysfunctional or not, has its problems and often it is about the money whether due to its presence or its absence.

In The Nest, the debut novel written by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, the Plumb siblings have been waiting for Melody, the youngest sibling to turn 40 years of age so they could claim their share in the trust fund set up by their late father. The joint trust fund is meant  to be a modest mid-life supplement set up by their deceased father, Leonard Plumb Sr. The Plumb siblings have watched the Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve their multiple self-inflicted problems.

Leonard is not materialistic and he has built a thriving business based on absorbency. During his lifetime, he had chanced upon a team working with a new substance: synthetic polymers that could absorb three hundred times more liquid than conventional organic absorbents like paper and cotton. The super absorbers have many applications that extended to consumer products e.g. better feminine hygiene products  and disposable diapers.  He was an extremely frugal man as he tried to fix everything that needed repair. At home various items were marked with his handwritten notes . Examples : “ Use with Care !” for  the hair dryer that could only be held with a mittened pot holder because the cracked handle overheated too quickly,"Use Sparingly!" for leaky coffeemakers , "Use with Caution” for bikes with no brakes etc. As a result of his frugality, business acumen and conservative investment in blue chip stocks, Leonard managed to set aside some funds to provide a modest safety net for his children’s future, 'nothing so vast as to be truly significant' but 'just a little something to 'pad their retirement a bit , maybe help fund a college tuition or two'. As he wanted his children to be financially independent and to value hard work, he left strict instruction that the money would be tied up until his youngest child, Melody turned forty. He didn’t believe in paying strangers to manage his money, he enlisted his second cousin George Plumb, who was also an attorney to manage it. The only person who could access the funds early was his wife , Francie who remarried after his passing. She abided by his wishes to the letter until one of their sons met with an accident that involved a waitress at his cousin’s wedding. Leo was the most charming amongst all the siblings but he was the also the unreliable one. After  Leo’s accident, the family’s trust fund depleted such that  the Plumb siblings’ hope for the trust fund to help them with their financial issues dashed.

One of Leonard’s son , Jack Plumb is gay and  is married to Walker , an attorney who is smart and sensible. One day, Walker decides to get the Plumbs together in one room and try to make a tiny inroad into facilitating some kind of agreement about the infernal sum of money they still insisted on calling The Nest. Walker felt that Jack and his siblings were infantile, ‘he couldn’t fathom how a group of adults could use that term in apparent earnestness and never even casually contemplate the twisted metaphor of the thing, and how it related to their dysfunctional behavior as individuals and a a group. Just one of many things about the Plumb family he’d stopped trying to understand.’ 

The occasion was meant to celebrate Melody’s 40th birthday but as events unfolded, the party did not proceed as planned by Walker.

To me except for Bea Plumb, a once-promising writer , the siblings are not likeable characters. The interesting characters are those who have gotten themselves involved with the Plumb family.

The Nest is a story well told that shows us what money does to relationships and how our ambitions change over the course of time and it is a story about the power of family, the possibilities of friendship and love that rise above all as the siblings grapple with the realities and the choices they have made in their own lives. 

Sunset ,San Sebastien, July  2015

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