The Heirs: A Novel by Susan RiegerThe Heirs: A Novel by Susan Rieger

The Heirs: A Novel

bySusan Rieger

Hardcover | May 23, 2017

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Named one of NPR's Best Books of 2017

"Both original and moving — and a whole lot of fun." CAROLINE LEAVITT, New York Times Book Review

"A must-read."  People

"Fans of Salinger's stories about Manhattan's elite will enjoy this novel about privileged siblings who grapple with the state of their inheritance and long-held secrets that emerge in the wake of their father's death." — InStyle

 
Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him.  The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.  In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure. 
 
Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together -- Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm -- and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.
 
A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.
SUSAN RIEGER is the author of the 2014 novel The Divorce Papers.  She is a graduate of Columbia Law School and has worked as a residential College Dean at Yale and as associate provost at Columbia. She lives in New York City with her husband, the writer David Denby.
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Title:The Heirs: A NovelFormat:HardcoverDimensions:272 pages, 9.54 × 6.41 × 1.05 inPublished:May 23, 2017Publisher:Crown/ArchetypeLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1101904712

ISBN - 13:9781101904718

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mildly intriguing Lots of rich details (pun intended) add interest to this family drama, which explores the well-documented ground of upper class families in New York City. The story unfolds in a detached way, layering and circling back on a family's history. The effect is like overhearing gossip about people you don't know - it's mildly intriguing but doesn't have much impact.
Date published: 2018-05-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great summer read A solid 4 star read. Told through alternating perspectives, we meet Eleanor and Rupert, parents to the inimitable Falkeses; Harry, Will, Sam, Jack, and Tom. With each chapter, we flip from the past to the present as each son comes to terms with their father's death, the family secrets that come to light, and confronting who they are. I thought this was a fast-paced, well written story about the messy, complicated thing that is called a family. It doesn't pussyfoot around secrets and lies, but rather shows each character, warts and all, unapologetically as we muddle through their grief. If you read and loved The Nest then I think you will enjoy this book as well. You may not always like the characters, but you will be drawn to them. The Falkeses are a family that just draw you right in. Recommended read.
Date published: 2017-06-06

Read from the Book

Chapter 1  Eleanor  He that dies pays all debts.  William Shakespeare, The Tempest   When he was dying, Rupert Falkes had the best care money could buy. His wife, Eleanor, saw to that. After the last round of chemo failed, she installed him in New York–Presbyterian in a large, comfortable, private room with a window facing the Hudson. She could have put him in hospice but she knew that in his rare moments of lucidity, he’d want to be in a hospital. He’d fought the prostate cancer tooth and nail, and even when it took over his bones, inflicting almost unbearable pain, he fought on. He wasn’t ready to go. He was only sixty-five. “Why can’t you stop them,” he had said to the oncologist when the third off-label drug didn’t shrink the tumors. He fiddled with his wedding ring, worrying it like a loose tooth. The doctor gave a small guilty shrug. He was out of drugs and words. “How much time do I have?” Rupert said. “Will I see in the millennium?” It was a week to Thanksgiving. The doctor nodded cautiously. “If things progress as I expect, you should make it, with a bit to spare.” Rupert rubbed the top of his head, shiny and bald from the chemo. “I remember when Nixon declared war on cancer. It must have been thirty years ago.” He shook his head. “I voted for the bugger.” Eleanor’s sons--she had five--knew her as playful, even mischievous, but in the presence of others, even close friends, she rarely revealed that part of her, except in her sly, darting wit. The qualities that drew people to her were her democratic manners, her openhandedness, and her attention to the comfort of others. Often, these qualities passed mistakenly for charm, but charm is natural, innate, a gift. Eleanor was like a ballet dancer; what she did was hard work, born of arduous training, made to look as effortless as breathing. As she had always reliably primed the social pump, so she made Rupert’s last months easier for everyone. She bought Starbucks cards, spa gift certificates, pizza, and wine for all the aides, porters, and nurses on the floor. Rupert had always been fastidious--understandably, Eleanor thought, but overly--and though he slept most of the time, she rallied the staff to spare him the indignities of his body’s failing systems. The aides kept him spotlessly clean, changing his diapers and sheets when they needed changing, and turning him over gently to prevent bedsores. The porters took care as they mopped and scoured not to bump his bed. The nurses were attentive, never stinting on the morphine. Unless he was so medicated that he barely breathed, Rupert couldn’t bear touch. Most days, Eleanor was unable to tell if Rupert sensed anything other than pain. Still, three times a week, she brought in fresh flowers, unseasonal and riotous, to put at his bedside; and she kept a radio humming by his ear, tuned to WQXR. Every afternoon she looked in to see him and read him short stories, Updike, Cheever, Munro. His doctors made it a point to drop by when she was there. Afterward, she often went to the movies.   Eleanor belonged to that class of New Yorker whose bloodlines were traced in the manner of racehorses: she was Phipps (sire) out of Deering (dam), by Livingston (sire’s dam) and Porter (dam’s dam). Born in 1938, during the Depression, to parents who had held on to their money, she was never allowed to buy anything showy or fashionable. It had to be good and it might be costly, but not obviously so to someone outside the walls of New York’s Four Hundred families. She went to Brearley because the women in her father’s family had gone there and because Brearley girls wore shapeless, navy, hand-me-down, Catholic-school uniforms and brown oxfords. Eleanor’s upbringing had been conducted by a martinet mother and a succession of brisk English nannies who drilled her daily on grammar, hygiene, deportment, and dress. In truth, she wasn’t so much raised up as subjugated, yoked to a set of rules and rituals that rivaled Leviticus for their specificity, rigor, piety, and triviality. On the subject of manners, Mrs. Phipps swore by Emily Post’s diktat that the Chief Virtue of Children was Obedience.  No young human being, any more than a young dog, has the least claim to attractiveness unless it is trained to manners and obedience. The child that whines, interrupts, fusses, fidgets, and does nothing that it is told to do, has not the least power of attraction for any one. . . . When possible, a child should be taken away the instant it becomes disobedient. It soon learns that it cannot “stay with mother” unless it is well-behaved. This means that it learns self-control in babyhood.  When, years later, at Vassar, Eleanor read Mrs. Post’s 1922 monumental Etiquette in a sociology class, she saw the “it” as the key to her upbringing. She wrote her term paper on obedience, “Portrait of the Debutante as a Young Dog.” Her professor gave her an A. His only comment was: “So, Miss Phipps, what do you think it would have been for you, as one raised under authoritarian principles, in WWII? Hitler Youth? White Rose? Kinder, Küche, Kirche?” Eleanor showed her roommate. “The creep is flirting and insulting me at the same time,” she said. Mrs. Phipps, had she known, would have bridled at the “authoritarian” epithet the professor had so slickly applied to Eleanor’s upbringing. She was no narrow dogmatist, doing unto Eleanor as had been done unto her. She never struck Eleanor or locked her in a closet or made her stand in the corner. Her childrearing regimen was up-to-the-minute and scientific, based on the soundest principles of “child development.” An early and avid subscriber to Parenting magazine, she was a votary of the psychologist J. B. Watson and kept his book Psychological Care of Infant and Child by her bedside. She took to heart his nostrums against hugging and kissing and often quoted to Eleanor his most famous axiom: “Mother love is a dangerous instrument that can wreck a child’s chance for future happiness.” Everything she did was for Eleanor’s own good. Deference to males, no matter their age, was an article of faith in the Phipps household, and by the time she was twelve, Eleanor, with no show of temper, would lose regularly at tennis to boys who weren’t nearly as good as she was. With similar equanimity, she would never argue with a boy or, worse, correct him, no matter how thick he was. At most she’d allow herself a “Do you think so,” then clear her throat. Mrs. Phipps took the hard line against female intelligence, thinking it suspect in a woman, unpardonable in a girl. Vulgarity was the besetting sin, the mark of the ill-bred, covering a range of behaviors extending well beyond conspicuous consumption to reading French novels, confusing a fish fork with a dessert fork, nodding off at the opera, using “lay” instead of “lie,” and wearing white shoes after Labor Day. Adolescence offered no escape for Eleanor from the maternal dragnet except in furtive play. Pre-Kinsey, she didn’t have a name for it; she only knew she wasn’t to do it. “No decent person does it,” Mrs. Phipps told her. “Only perverts.” Eleanor’s response, by now second nature, was to slip into silence, which passed for submission, and take long baths. Her mother always blamed Vassar for Eleanor’s marriage to Rupert, and certainly it contributed to her general “Bolshiness,” as her mother called it. In truth, the path was laid down when she was sixteen in a setting Mrs. Phipps would have thought, if not entirely wholesome, then safe enough. Eleanor was spending the night at the home of a Brearley classmate, Clarissa Van Vliet. Clarissa’s parents, despite impeccable antecedents, were by Mrs. Phipps’s lights “Bohemian.” They lived on the Upper West Side, not the Upper East. Their living room bookshelves held books and not antique Chinese export pottery. Their three children, ages eleven to sixteen, regularly ate dinner with their parents. They socialized with Jews and homosexuals. That evening at dinner, Mrs. Van Vliet directed her conversation toward Clarissa and her guest, telling them about “a terrific book” she was rereading, D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. “It’s as good as I remember--I first read it when I was at Vassar, English 225, I think,” she said. “The professor was advanced.” Her husband looked up from his plate, amused. “Very advanced, even for Vassar. Isn’t it what we called in my day a ‘dirty’ book?” he asked. “Well, of course it is,” Mrs. Van Vliet said. “How are young women supposed to learn anything?” As she said this, she knocked her water glass to the floor, where it shattered into scores of tiny, spiky shards. “Oh, shit,” Mrs. Van Vliet said. The hair on the back of Eleanor’s neck stood up. She’d found the whole conversation exhilarating, but this last outburst was thrilling. She’d never heard anyone’s mother use a swearword, and she had believed that if one ever slipped out, a thing almost unimaginable, the woman would be filled with chagrin, falling over herself to apologize. Not this mother. Mrs. Van Vliet laughed and called to the maid to sweep it up. The next day, Eleanor went to Scribner’s and bought Women in Love. She stayed up all night reading it. When she’d finished, she told her mother she was going to go to Vassar. Years later, Eleanor would think of that dinner at the Van Vliets as her Emma-Bovary-on-the-road-to-Damascus moment. Eleanor’s first act of open rebellion was to vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960. No one in the family, not since McKinley, had voted for a Democrat. Her second was to marry Rupert Falkes, a penniless Englishman.   Rupert Falkes had only one social rule, which he observed punctiliously: a gentleman is never unintentionally rude. He was equal parts charm and rudeness, and in his prime, he was rude at some point or other to almost every person he knew, and many he didn’t. Occasionally, he larded his insults with obscenities. The exceptions were Eleanor, the boys, and her father. He knew that Eleanor wouldn’t tolerate rudeness to herself or the boys. She had made it clear early in their marriage when he criticized their firstborn’s table manners. “He’s not fit to eat at table,” he said to Eleanor. The child, Harry, was sixteen months at the time. He had scant control of the spoon, but insisted on using it, carrying his porridge to his nose as often as to his mouth. When Eleanor tried to help, he pushed her hand away and shook his head. “Self,” he said. “Right,” Eleanor said. “Off to boarding school with him then.” Rupert took the warning. “I’m not used to eating with babies,” he said. His explanation passed for an apology. Eleanor never minded his rudeness to others, shrugging it off. “It’s like Tourette’s or hiccups with him,” she would say if a friend mentioned it. “Raise it with him, if you like. He might respond well.” Rupert had had the good fortune he’d always say of being an orphan. A foundling, he’d been left in the English winter of 1934, when he was no more than a month old, on the steps of St. Pancras in Chichester. He was fair and rosy, healthy, and nicely swaddled, and the priest who’d found him, the Rev. Henry Falkes, was sure his mother would have a change of heart and come fetch him. She didn’t. Rupert grew up in St. Pancras’s Home for Orphaned Boys, a childhood no more brutal than one offered in the Depression years at a Church of England prep school. Whatever the weather, the boys wore shorts. Whatever the games and season, they bathed once a week in communal tubs. Until he came to America, he didn’t know that chilblains were frostbite. Rupert had a lovely boy’s soprano voice that made him stand out from the unruly, runny-nosed, scabrous little boys he lived with. It would prove not only the saving of him but the making of him. When he was seven, Reverend Falkes made an application for him to the Prebendal School and he was accepted as a chorister. From there, he went to public school at Longleat on a scholarship, and then to Cambridge, as a scholar. Holidays, he spent with Reverend Falkes, who was proud of Rupert and always kind to him but unaffectionate in that wooden way of Englishmen sent off to boarding school before they cut their second teeth. Rupert emigrated to America in the summer of 1955, when he was twenty-one. Reverend Falkes had died without warning on Boxing Day the year before and there was nothing to keep him in England. Twice abandoned and orphaned, he had no home, no one looking out for him, no useful connections. Despite his first-class education, his prospects, if he stayed, would be limited. And he was made for America. Americans loved his accent and his Cambridge pedigree and regarded his orphaned status almost as an asset, the stamp of authenticity of the self-made man. The first time Eleanor saw him weep was when he read The Great Gatsby. “We don’t read this in England,” he said. “Witless arrogance.” Rupert never talked about his first year in America, and Eleanor was never sure how he’d got on. The story he would tell was that he met the dean of Yale Law School, Eugene Debs Rostow, on a train that first year, and talked his way into a scholarship there. Rostow would not regret the decision. Rupert made the Law Journal, clerked for Judge Friendly on the Second Circuit, and then went to work for Maynard, Tandy & Jordan, where he practiced antitrust law in the golden age of antitrust. He made a lot of money, and when he retired at sixty-five, he endowed three chairs at Yale, one in honor of Dean Rostow.   Eleanor was attentive to Rupert’s needs, pushing aside all feelings of loss until they could not be ignored. She would miss him, she knew, but she couldn’t wish him longer life. She wondered what the boys were feeling. They were now men, the oldest thirty-seven, the youngest almost thirty, and they no longer confided in her. Sam, the middle son, would take it hardest, but she didn’t believe Rupert’s death would be wrenching for the others, except perhaps in the feeling of what-might-have-been-and-now-never-will. But that is loss too, she thought. Harry and Sam, the two boys living in New York, visited him at the hospital at least three times a week, usually before or after work, and Sam often stayed through dinner and read to his father, picking up where Eleanor had left off. Will, Jack, and Tom came from Los Angeles, Austin, and Chicago every few weeks. Although Eleanor had been, they would tease, an overly fond mother, she had not rejected all the lessons of her childhood, but had instilled in the boys a sense of responsibility to family and community. “We do what decency requires,” she regularly said to them. “Never less.” The boys loved Rupert--he was, after all, their father and he had always looked out for them--but he had been, for so much of their early lives, so little there, they had few childhood memories of him. They remembered their mother and grandfather. Eleanor had taught them to ride their bikes and serve a tennis ball. She had held them when they were sad and kissed their scrapes. Poppa took them to baseball games and museums. He’d let them sit on his lap at dinner. A natural Watsonian, Rupert never hugged or kissed his sons. When they were two, he patted them on the head; when they were seven, he met them with a handshake. He couldn’t help it, much as he cared for them in his buttoned‑up English way. Eleanor told them not to take it personally and, except for Tom, the youngest, they didn’t.

Bookclub Guide

Named one of NPR's Best Books of 2017"Both original and moving — and a whole lot of fun." — CAROLINE LEAVITT, New York Times Book Review"A must-read." — People"Fans of Salinger's stories about Manhattan's elite will enjoy this novel about privileged siblings who grapple with the state of their inheritance and long-held secrets that emerge in the wake of their father's death." — InStyle   Six months after Rupert Falkes dies, leaving a grieving widow and five adult sons, an unknown woman sues his estate, claiming she had two sons by him.  The Falkes brothers are pitched into turmoil, at once missing their father and feeling betrayed by him.  In disconcerting contrast, their mother, Eleanor, is cool and calm, showing preternatural composure.    Eleanor and Rupert had made an admirable life together -- Eleanor with her sly wit and generosity, Rupert with his ambition and English charm -- and they were proud of their handsome, talented sons: Harry, a brash law professor; Will, a savvy Hollywood agent; Sam, an astute doctor and scientific researcher; Jack, a jazz trumpet prodigy; Tom, a public-spirited federal prosecutor. The brothers see their identity and success as inextricably tied to family loyalty – a loyalty they always believed their father shared. Struggling to reclaim their identity, the brothers find Eleanor’s sympathy toward the woman and her sons confounding. Widowhood has let her cast off the rigid propriety of her stifling upbringing, and the brothers begin to question whether they knew either of their parents at all.   A riveting portrait of a family, told with compassion, insight, and wit, The Heirs wrestles with the tangled nature of inheritance and legacy for one unforgettable, patrician New York family. Moving seamlessly through a constellation of rich, arresting voices, The Heirs is a tale out Edith Wharton for the 21st century.1. What do you think of the way Sam broke off with Andrew? Can you defend him?   2. Why do you think Susanna decide to have a baby with Sam?  Would it have been better if she’d gone with another friend as the donor? Or with an anonymous donor?3. Do you think that Rupert is the father of Vera’s sons? Do you think that Eleanor believes that they are?4. Why did Rupert resume the relationship with Vera? Why did Vera resume the relationship after Rupert had left her so abruptly?  5. Why did the Reverend Falkes give Rupert his last name?  Why did he prefer him above the other orphans?6. Jim and Eleanor moved on from their relationship very differently. Why did Eleanor move on more easily than Jim? Why do you think Jim invited Eleanor to his wedding? 7. Was Jim’s a failed life?  Would he have been more successful if he had not been in love Eleanor?  Why was he stuck on his past?  Was Rupert also stuck? Was Anne?8. Why did Anne marry Jim?  What was it about him that make her want him?9. Do you have a favorite among the 5 Falkes boys?  Which one? Why?  What are the virtues of each?  Harry? Will? Sam? Jack? Tom? What are the deficits of each? Does Eleanor have a favorite?  Did Rupert?10. Did Eleanor and Rupert love each other?  Would you say that they had a good marriage?  What makes a good marriage?11. How do the couples deal with infidelity?  Why do some marriages survive infidelity and others don’t?  How important is fidelity to a marriage?12. Do you think that a wife or husband usually “knows” when the other spouse is having an affair even if he or she doesn’t acknowledge it?  13. How did Rupert’s childhood make him the man he grew up to be?  Do you see a connection between his childhood and his relationships with Eleanor, his father-in-law, his sons, Vera?  14. Both Rupert and Harry have affairs at 40. Do you think their behavior is a typical midlife crisis, or is there something more going on?  15. Do all marriages involve secrets? Do all relationships? If you found out that someone close to you had been keeping a big secret, how would that change your relationship? 

Editorial Reviews

Praise for The Heirs:"Both original and moving — and a whole lot of fun...With grace and finesse, Rieger (whose previous novel was The Divorce Papers) swings effortlessly from character to character... the major players are so richly alive, their search for the truth so absorbing, that you might tear some pages in your rush to turn them." — New York Times Book Review“Elegant literary prose and supremely likeable characters make this a must-read.”— People"Fans of Salinger's stories about Manhattan's elite will enjoy this novel about privileged siblings who grapple with the state of their inheritance and long-held secrets that emerge in the wake of their father's death."— InStyle“Love and sex and money and betrayal make for excellent storytelling. And The Heirs has all of that... As an exploration of the hidden lives of Rupert and Eleanor Falkes, it is a posh soap opera written by Fitzgerald and the Brontes. As a window on a family shaken by death, it is The Royal Tenenbaums, polished up and moved across town. But its beauty, economy and expensive wit is all its own.” —NPR.org“Speaking of intrigue, who doesn’t love a good family drama? As the next step to summer reading bliss, turn off daytime TV and pick up a book that gives you the same kind of thrill without making you feel your brain’s turned to junk. Rieger’s The Heirs is about the secrets and lies that threaten to consume the Falkes family, moneyed Manhattanites with a flawless educational pedigree.” — Brit + Co“…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… Rieger’s intimate look at this intriguing family is an erudite and witty take on a social circle that most readers can only imagine.” —Bookpage“Brilliantly constructed and flawlessly written…an emotional and satisfying story of how a complicated family and their outliers handle life’s most pivotal moments.”— Library Journal, starred review"[An] assured novel of family, money, and secrets, reminiscent in theme and tone of Edith Wharton…just in time for poolside reading, this elegant novel wears its intelligence lightly.”— Kirkus, starred review"Rieger wrestles perceptively with difficult questions and... shines incrementally increasing light on the Falkes’ extended web of familial and emotional ties, sucking the reader into the tangle of emotions and conflicting interests... a tense, introspective account of looking for truth, and instead finding peace."— Publishers Weekly, starred review"Told both in flashbacks and at the turn of the millennium, there’s something timeless about this family drama; take it back 100 years, and it would easily fit in among the novels of the Gilded Age. It is a charming, slightly haunting look at a family dealing with the inheritance of legacy rather than money and wondering if what happens after a relationship matters as much as how it was experienced at the time."  — Diana Platt, Booklist"Susan Rieger is thrillingly erudite and compulsively readable, a satisfying combination hard to find in any section of the bookstore. The Heirs is an absorbing page-turner, full of sex and secrets, and I loved getting to know the entire Falkes clan. —Emma Straub, New York Times bestselling author of Modern Lovers "What a sure-footed and unfoolable writer Susan Rieger is--and what a great book The Heirs is.  Unstoppably entertaining and astute, it describes its characters--the charismatic fauna of old, upper class New York--with a strange, merciless sympathy.  Wonderful stuff." —Joseph O'Neill, author of Netherland and The DogSelected Praise for The Divorce Papers, by Susan Rieger:“Ingenious setup and voyeuristic pleasures...Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”—Emily Giffin, New York Times Book Review“Fresh and lively… Smart and wonderfully entertaining… The power and canniness of this bittersweet work of epistolary fiction pulls you along… [T]his portrait of a divorce makes for serious, yet charming, entertainment… A dramatic intertwining of the law and human feelings.”—Alan Cheuse, NPR“In her clever modern twist on the epistolary form, Rieger excavates the humor and humanity from a most bitter uncoupling.”—Editor's Choice, New York Times Book Review“Brims with brio and wit.” —Entertainment Weekly“This comedy of manners... unfolds through e-mails, legal briefs, handwritten notes, and interoffice memos... the texts offer a provocative glimpse of how intimately our documents reveal us.” —New Yorker“Rieger writes with such facility and humor in so many voices… [A]n excellent yarn about the nature of love, insecurity and commitment.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune“A witty first novel… The engaging tale…provid[es] all the voyeuristic pleasure of snooping through someone else’s inbox.”—People“A fantastic book...excellent.” —Jezebel“Whip-smart… The characters are hilarious and brilliant.” —Lucky