A novel about friendship, marriage, and managing the challenges life presents
Flora Mancini has been happily married for more than twenty years. But everything she thought she knew about herself, her marriage, and her relationship with her best friend, Margot, is upended when she stumbles upon an envelope containing her husband’s wedding ring — the one he claimed he lost one summer when their daughter, Ruby, was five.
Flora and Julian struggled for years, scraping together just enough acting work to raise Ruby in Manhattan and keep Julian’s small theater company — Good Company — afloat. A move to Los Angeles brought their first real career successes, a chance to breathe easier, and a reunion with Margot, now a bona fide television star. But has their new life been built on lies? What happened that summer all those years ago? And what happens now?
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s The Nest was one of the best novels I read in 2016, so I’ve been looking forward to reading the author’s follow-up ever since. I was lucky enough to get a DRC of Good Company, and I’m very pleased to report that it lived up to my high expectations. A novel about family, friendship, secrets, and life in general. I really enjoyed this.
The novel follows three friends: Flora and Julian, who are married, and also their best friend Margot. They are all actors. As the synopsis points out, Flora and Julian struggled for longer than Margot, but have found a level of success with their most recent ventures — sometimes feeling guilty about having “sold-out” by pursuing television and voice-over work, rather than sticking with their (far less lucrative) love for the theatre (and, in the case of Flora, musical theatre). Margot is the most successful and most glamorous, one of the stars of the Grey’s Anatomy-esque Cedars. While all three started in New York, they have since decamped to Los Angeles. There, they navigate the world of Hollywood and, in the case of Flora and Julian, raising a child among other kids who are obsessed with celebrity and Hollywood power rankings. Ruby, for her part, has no interest in a career in the performing arts. Through Margot’s eyes, we see a bit of what it’s like to be an actress on a long-running show, how Hollywood loses interest in women of a certain age, and also the shifting allegiances that can happen in the industry.
Flora, always self-conscious about her level of success and talent, is ferociously loyal to Julian and Margot. But after a chance discovery while looking for an old photo of the group’s time back East, new light is shed on a difficult time of their lives and careers, shaking the foundations of not only her marriage but also her friendship with Margot. The novel alternates between the present and the fall-out of the discovery, and the past as we see events unfold and the characters grapple with life’s challenges.
All of the hallmarks that made The Nest such a good read — the attention to detail, the fully-realized characters, excellent prose — are on display again in Good Company. The author does a wonderful job, writing these characters and their interconnected relationships. The alternating perspectives was very well handled, and used to present the different interpretations of events — either reinforcing or contradicting others. We learn of each character’s worries, their blind-spots, and more. For example, Margot’s internal, critical monologue about “celebrity culture”, which Flora recognizes and interprets as protesting too much — Margot, Flora believes, secretly loves the attention, as evidenced by certain performative aspects of her character and behaviour. Meanwhile, Flora is unaware of just how much she means to Margot and Julian, always harbouring self-doubt. All the while, they navigate Ruby’s graduation and impending departure for college, and various other challenges that arise in their careers. The rift that opens between the three friends is well handled and believable, as are their respective reactions to it. A secondary storyline, perhaps, but I also really liked the way the author wrote about Margot’s marriage with David, and how they handled his stroke and what that meant for them as a couple and also his/their life.
The novel is very well-paced, and engaging throughout. Just a really good read. Very highly recommended.
Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s Good Company is due to be published by Ecco in North America, on April 6th, 2021. I couldn’t find any details for a UK edition, but The Nest is available in the UK via Borough Press.