Tilda and Chip have owned their beloved limestone for some 40 years, and it plays such a central role in this novel that it’s a character unto itself, with its velvet window dressings, overstuffed closets and vaguely Dickensian furnishings, including a noisy grandfather clock and a possibly bug-infested antique sofa.
The couple decide to downsize but don’t want to sell their home. So they invite their son, Cord, and his wife, Sasha, to move into the house, the inciting incident of this comedy of the 1 percent.
The young couple may live rent-free, but the arrangement comes with an emotional cost, at least for Sasha, who has little say when it comes to culling any of the items in the overstuffed house. She can’t so much as reconfigure the master bedroom closet without her mother-in-law pushing back, opining on the best way to store “off-season footwear, hats, anything with a brim that you don’t want crushed.” Sasha and Cord even sleep on his parents’ four-poster bed, where “it was extremely hard for Sasha to achieve orgasm while the mahogany headboard that probably belonged to a congressman or secretary of transportation banged against the wall.”
Tilda’s not the only one overly attached to the place — the two other Stockton children, Darley and Georgina, grew up there, and their rooms remain full of old textbooks, photo albums, tennis trophies and school projects, including “an ashtray Darley made in sixth grade that looked like a malformed mushroom.”
The two sisters have nicknamed Sasha, who comes from a middle-class family and who they believe refused to sign a prenuptial agreement, the Gold Digger; the GD, for short.
Darley is meanwhile wrestling with her own family problems. Her Korean American husband, Malcolm, has just lost his job in the Aviation Group at Deutsche Bank. Again with the pre-nups: Darley did not ask Malcolm to sign one, so she has been cut out of her inheritance, which will now skip a generation and go directly to their children. Now that Malcolm is unemployed, and Darley has given up her job at Goldman Sachs to stay home with the children, they are moving toward financial crisis.
Georgiana is the most complicated of the bunch. At 26, she is a well-rendered, often hilariously and disturbingly oblivious millennial who says things like: “Oh, no! I left my Cartier bracelet in Lena’s BMW and she’s leaving soon for her grandmother’s house in Southampton!” Georgiana’s world is so insular that, even though she works for a nonprofit focused on health care in the developing world, she does not know that the United Arab Emirates is a country.
A traumatic event involving her messy love life prompts Georgiana to try to divest herself of her fortune. “It was the money that made her so horrible,” she thinks. “It had made her coddled and spoiled and ruined.” But giving away all of her $37 million will be more complicated than she imagined.
That the book is smart and sharply observed, peppered with small gems, should come as no surprise: Jackson is a vice president and executive editor at Knopf and has worked with a long roster of authorial luminaries.
As the story unfolds, with the Stocktons throwing dinner parties, attending glamorous fundraisers and playing many games of tennis, the longtime housekeeper, Berta, cooks, mops and clears tables in the background. As for Berta, we never learn much about her or what she might be making of this family’s exploits. Jackson hasn’t come here to excoriate the 1 percent, yet I found myself wondering how this novel might look through Berta’s lens. Fans of well-observed foibles will have a ball; class warriors might look elsewhere.
Susan Coll’s most recent novel is “Bookish People.”
Pamela Dorman Books/Viking. 304 pp. $28
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