“Brood parasites, like certain birds, intentionally lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.”
Amy Poeppel is fast becoming one of my favorite authors; she wrote Small Admissions, Limelight, and Musical Chairs, and I read and loved them all. Her new novel is The Sweet Spot, and it is destined to become one of the best books of 2023. My thanks go to Net Galley, Atria Books, and the author for the review copies.
One of the aspects of Poeppel’s writing that sets her apart is her ability to create female characters that are so dynamic, so well developed that I feel as if I know them. Here we have four that span a wide range of ages and income levels, yet somehow wind up forming an unlikely sorority. The first, Lauren Aston-Shaw is an artist, and she’s in the midst of moving into a brownstone in New York City’s famed Greenwich Village, along with her husband, children, and large dog, Bumper. The boxes are only partially unpacked when she receives a mostly-delightful surprise: a prominent businesswoman and influencer has decided to place a massive order of Lauren’s handmade porcelain for her boutiques. The house is already in a state of happy chaos, and it’s about to be more so.
During a conversation with Felicity—the retailer in question, who is pregnant—Lauren makes an offhand remark, which Felicity interprets as an engraved invitation to break up the decades-long marriage of the baby’s father, Russell. Miranda, the spurned wife, learns of Lauren’s role and decides, in a fit of grief and rage, to burn Lauren’s life to the ground. Miranda, then, is our second of the four women.
Olivia, our third main character is one of Felicity’s employees. She is in her twenties, low on the management chain, but she is ambitious, hardworking, and determined to climb; that is, until she becomes a casualty of Miranda’s rampage. Olivia is also the beloved daughter of Dan, who runs The Sweet Spot, a neighborhood bar located in the lower level of the brownstone currently occupied by the Shaw family. Dan is a lovable, level-headed sort, and through his eyes, we see the drama unfolding between Lauren, Miranda, and Felicity through a more objective lens.
The novel’s promotional blurb tells us that these are the women that the story is about, but I would add one more. Evelyn is Lauren’s mother; they have a complicated relationship. But under the strain of the sudden and unexpected increase in work, Lauren reaches out and begs her mother to come assist her with the children until she has things in hand. Evelyn can only stay for a weekend; she has so many social obligations back home. And yet, a weekend grows to a long weekend, and then to a week. Evelyn is far too interesting to be considered a side character; she is our fourth main character.
Despite her despair and fury, Miranda finds herself caring for Russell and Felicity’s baby; it is supposed to be for a couple of hours, but in the solipsistic way of the wealthy and entitled, both parents depart for the West Coast without making childcare arrangements, and Lauren and Olivia find themselves also assisting as hours turn to days, and then to weeks.
This story has everything I want in a novel, and when I got a go-to-bed-and-die flu virus, I curled up in bed and spent my waking time there reading it. I’ll tell you from experience that it’s good for what ails you. The plot is deftly managed, and that is no small feat given its complexity. The pacing never flags and no balls are dropped (except possibly Russell’s.) The dialogue sizzles. But the thing that turns a good novel to a great one is Poeppel’s insight into the human condition. Her level of perception is what makes the characters shine, and it’s also what makes the entire book drop-dead funny. Lastly, Amy Poeppel is one of a very few authors that can write a feel-good story that never insults the reader’s intelligence.
Admit it. You need this book! Happily, it will be available to the public January 31, 2023, and you can pre-order it now. Highly recommended.