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Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty

3.8 5
by Ramona Ausubel

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"A timely, sophisticated tale [that] explores what happens when a charmed life loses its luster.” –O Magazine

From the award-winning author of No One Is Here Except All of Us, an imaginative novel about a wealthy New England family in the 1960s and '70s that suddenly loses its fortune—and its bearings.

An NPR Best


"A timely, sophisticated tale [that] explores what happens when a charmed life loses its luster.” –O Magazine

From the award-winning author of No One Is Here Except All of Us, an imaginative novel about a wealthy New England family in the 1960s and '70s that suddenly loses its fortune—and its bearings.

An NPR Best Book of 2016
One of Best Books of Summer O Magazine
One of The 12 Summer Books That Everyone Will Be Talking About –Harper’s Bazaar
One of 20 Books Perfect for Your Summer Vacay Refinery29
One of 22 Summer Books You Won’t Want to Miss –Huffington Post
One of 19 Summer Books that Everyone Will be Talking About – Elle.com
One of the Most Anticipated Books of 2016 –The Millions
One of 30 Best New Books for Summer 2016 –Good Housekeeping
One of 30 Books You Should Read this Summer Chicago Tribune

Labor Day, 1976, Martha's Vineyard. Summering at the family beach house along this moneyed coast of New England, Fern and Edgar—married with three children—are happily preparing for a family birthday celebration when they learn that the unimaginable has occurred: There is no more money. More specifically, there's no more money in the estate of Fern's recently deceased parents, which, as the sole source of Fern and Edgar's income, had allowed them to live this beautiful, comfortable life despite their professed anti-money ideals. Quickly, the once-charmed family unravels. In distress and confusion, Fern and Edgar are each tempted away on separate adventures: she on a road trip with a stranger, he on an ill-advised sailing voyage with another woman. The three children are left for days with no guardian whatsoever, in an improvised Neverland helmed by the tender, witty, and resourceful Cricket, age nine.

Brimming with humanity and wisdom, humor and bite, and imbued with both the whimsical and the profound, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is a story of American wealth, class, family, and mobility, approached by award-winner Ramona Ausubel with a breadth of imagination and understanding that is fresh, surprising, and exciting.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Stephanie Clifford
Ausubel's writing, melancholy and fine, shines in illuminating everyday scenes of life…Even the throwaway details are terrific…
Publishers Weekly
The 1970s and ’60s are reexamined in Ausubel’s second novel, which takes place largely in the American bicentennial year of 1976. Coming from moneyed backgrounds, married couple Edgar and Fern Keating react in a surprising fashion to their impending insolvency. Edgar, a soon-to-be-published novelist, goes sailing off to Bermuda with a woman he just slept with named Glory Jefferson. And Fern embarks on a cross-country road trip from Cambridge to Palm Springs with Mac, a giant bank guard she just met. Due to a mix-up, the Keatings’ three resilient children, nine-year-old Cricket and the 6-year-old twins, James and Will, are left home alone. Interspersed with this narrative are numerous flashbacks to the late ’60s, as we see Edgar and Fern meeting, courting, marrying, and having children as the world seemingly goes to hell around them. Ausubel (No One Is Here Except All of Us) offers an incisive look at these schismatic years in American history and how they affect this couple and their friends and family members, including Fern’s twin brother, Ben, who is drafted into the army along with Edgar. There is true wit in the author’s depiction of these tumultuous decades, and with characters this memorable, the pages almost turn themselves. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Associates. (June)
From the Publisher
“Weird and wonderful. . . Ausubel’s writing, melancholy and fine, shines in illuminating everyday scenes of life. . . Even the throwaway details are terrific.” —The New York Times

“Diffuse and elegiac.” —The New Yorker

“Empty bank accounts. Goods taken for granted now gone. A familial fall from grace. An end to stability. Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is this summer’s much-raved about new release, and with good reason. Pick this up if you want an imaginative read with a dash of drama and some deep insight on wealth and class in America.”  —USA Today

“It’s not easy to make the travails of one-percenters sympathetic to the Costco-shopping rest of us, but if there’s a novelist up to the task of charming a reader into submission, it’s Ramona Ausubel, who writes heartfelt, quirky fiction with winsome prose.” —Los Angeles Times

“Ramona Ausubel’s sparkling second novel, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, is packed with wisdoms. . . [this] glorious work will surely confirm her as a vibrant, memorable voice in contemporary American letters.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

“Ausubel's characters steer her bold and absorbing novel and keep us emotionally invested in their foibles, ideals and desires.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Devilishly imaginative.” —Vanity Fair

“Ausubel charts the unfolding crisis with tenderness, wit and a sly understanding of wealth and its limitations." –People

“Ausubel's often whimsical prose is in top form yet again as she imbues the story with her signature touch of magic. This one's just lovely.” —Elle

“A timely, sophisticated tale [that] explores what happens when a charmed life loses its luster.” —O Magazine

“A wealthy family loses, quite suddenly, its fortune. And with the money goes the decorum. What drama ensues is in the pleasure of reading Ausubel’s lyrical prose.” —Travel and Leisure

“‘There’s no more money.’” This stark discovery by a golden couple triggers a series of funny, touching adventures. . . Set in the anything-goes ’70s, this story inspires surprising happiness.” —Good Housekeeping

“Ausubel’s imaginative narrative makes for a compelling modern day fairytale.” —Real Simple

“Full of wisdom and wonderfully meditative insights on wealth and class in America, Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is both highly imaginative and philosophical in scope.” —Refinery29

“Follows what happens when everything you took for granted suddenly, dramatically, no longer exists.” —HelloGiggles

“What happens when a family who has it all loses it all? That’s what we learn in this excellent novel about a Waspy clan whose fortune disappears suddenly, forcing them to figure out how to live without. It’s deeply human and surprisingly sympathetic.”  —PureWow

“[An] ideal summer novel.” –BookPage 

“After a financial upending levels a family’s sunny life, their individual journeys wrest them farther away from each other and deeper into the heart of the reader. Ramona Ausubel, easily one of the most inventive writers around, chronicles their odyssey with prodigious tenderness and nimble magic. Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is a wild wonder of a novel.” —Laura van den Berg, author of The Isle of Youth and Find Me

“This is the book about class and love that I’ve been waiting for. A riches-to-rags story with all the twists and unraveling you could want, embroidered divine in the wizardy mind of Ramona Ausubel, whose imagination and music are simply peerless. A gorgeous and moving must-read!” —Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold, Fame, Citrus and Battleborn

“Ramona Ausubel has given us a brilliantly imagined novel about family and fortune and the hidden knots between. You're holding a book brimming with life by an author bursting with talent.” —Maggie Shipstead, author of Seating Arrangements and Astonish Me

“With characters this memorable, the pages almost turn themselves.” —Publishers Weekly

“Fortunes and hearts are lost and found in a modern fairy tale set in the 1960s and ’70s . . . Ausubel's magical, engrossing prose style perfectly fits this magical, engrossing story.” —Kirkus(starred review)

“Ausubel offers a piercing view of the subtleties of class and privilege and what happens when things go awry.” —Booklist

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2016-03-03
Fortunes and hearts are lost and found in a modern fairy tale set in the 1960s and '70s. Ausubel's (A Guide to Being Born, 2013, etc.) trademark combination of realist narrative with fabulist elements shines in this novel that includes everything from Vietnam War casualties and a West Virginia mine disaster to a road trip with a giant, an escape by sailboat, and children on their own in a wood. It begins on Labor Day weekend, 1976, at the summer house of Fern and Edgar Keating and their three children. Fern receives a call from her family lawyer that not a penny is left of the fortune she was to inherit from her recently deceased parents. And while Edgar could "go back and take over the family steel company in Chicago…[i]t was the very last thing he wanted to do. He would not be able to publish the novel he had spent ten years writing because it was about the son of a steel baron who walks away from his father's money." This is a first-world problem to be sure, but it rocks the Keatings' world. Edgar wanders off to a pot party and gets way too involved with a louche woman in white bell-bottoms named Glory. Meanwhile, Fern is inveigled into playing the bride in a fake wedding put on to entertain Alzheimer's patients in a nursing home, then takes off for California with her groom, who is literally a giant. Both Fern and Edgar leave town thinking the other is still at home—but in fact, their kids are all alone, with only fourth-grader Cricket to take care of her kindergarten-age twin brothers. Interwoven with this '70s story are sections set in 1965, filling in marvelous detail about Fern's and Edgar's parents, the early days of their love, and the fate of Fern's own adored twin. Ausubel's magical, engrossing prose style perfectly fits this magical, engrossing story.
Library Journal
Once upon a time, Fern and Edgar were impoverished young rebels in love, proving their independence from the vast wealth of their respective families. Eventually, as their own children arrived, they settled into their roles as a "son and daughter of ease and plenty" in a Cambridge, MA, home with a summer place on Martha's Vineyard. Shockingly, after the death of Fern's wealthy parents, it all vanishes. She learns that all the family's old money has been given to others. Edgar, after eschewing his parents' so-new-as-to-be-almost-vulgar riches, has let Fern's funds quietly support their young family. Suddenly untethered, Edgar breaks his marital bonds and ends up sailing toward Bermuda; Fern's response is to road trip with a giant searching for his estranged son. The peripatetic pair's three young children are unwittingly abandoned to face a mythic backyard adventure. VERDICT Narrator Elisabeth Rodgers takes Ausubel's witty tragicomedy with a healthy dose of Schadenfreude and adds the perfect hint of surprise, as if she has a single eyebrow playfully cocked upward in partial disbelief. Thanks to Rodgers's enchanting reading, this charmed summer best seller is sure to engage all-season audiences as well.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
6.50(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2016 Ramona Ausubel


SUMMER FATTENED EVERYBODY UP. The family buttered without reserve; pie seemed to be everywhere. They awoke and slept and awoke in the summerhouse on the island, ate all their meals on the porch while the sun moved across their sky. They looked out at the saltwater cove and watched the sailboats skim and tack across the blue towards the windward beach, littered with the outgrown shells of horseshoe crabs.

Picture the five of them, looking like a family. Fern was happy because they were together all the time. She baked. Not well, but muffins were muffins and they never went uneaten. Edgar wore the clothes he kept at the Vineyard house, which were stiff with salt and faded from sun. At dawn and dusk and six times between he rolled his pants up and stood at the surfline, his feet sinking a little deeper with each wave. Fern wore a kerchief and dug in the garden, trying to make the cucumbers come up. Cricket was always in a sundress with a rainbow on it, the twins in shorts and sailor shirts embroidered with the name of their grandparents' boat. Fern was a mother and a wife and herself all at once. Edgar rumpled his children's hair, kissed his wife on the temple, mended the sails and painted the hulls, sailed out in the Sound and bobbed there, pretending the shoreline away.

Edgar loved the eelgrass and the cold water and the thunderstorms so much it was unsayable. He thought that if a poor person told you he loved the eelgrass you would believe him immediately, and how unfair that was if you happened to be rich. As if his feelings were purchased and therefore not true, not a strum he could hear in his ears when he dove from the wet deck of his boat into the Sound, which was the precise cold it had been every summer, and the moon jellies brushed against his legs when he kicked and he held his breath and stayed under as long as he could, submerged in that perfect brine, memorizing for the thousandth time this feel­ing. That he had a hand-built wooden sailboat made him only able to talk about his swim, his ferocious love for this water, with other people who also had wooden sailboats. Back home, taking his car in for an oil change, he would not be able to answer the question honestly: how was your summer? He would have to abridge, "Beautiful. Water and wind." He knew that the summerhouse, the sea view, belonged to him because he paid for them, yet it felt like his bloodstream pumped with this place, like the rocks and waves and saltmuck were in him, that he was of them. But money, old money, got all the press.

The children were brown with white, white behinds and they wore anklets of poison ivy blisters. For them the whole point of life was to be wet and dry eight times a day and never clean. As the children understood it, there were places where it was summer all year and they could not believe that their parents had chosen this northerly, four-season land. The parents did not have a good explanation. Only that their kind of people did not live in warm places. They could visit-Edgar's parents owned an island in the Caribbean-but then they had to go back to New England or Chicago or St. Louis or Kansas City, as if the particular ratio of city to country, winter to summer, brick to grass, was necessary for their species to survive.

In the evenings they rowed to a nearby beach for a supper pic­nic. Fern with a loaf of not very good homemade bread in a checkered cloth on her lap, the kids leaning over the lip of the rowboat hunting for jellyfish, and all of them in the music of Father's oars dipping, rising, dripping.

There was always sand in the bed and none of them wanted it to end.

August arrived despite their prayers that it would not. Each swim and sail meant more. At the county fair Will entered a small schoo­ner he had carved and won first place, but Cricket's blueberry pie and James's bouquet of flowers went ribbon-less. They rode the Ferris wheel and admired the blue-ribbon piglets and watched the ox-pull. They begged the days to pass more slowly.

On the morning of Edgar's birthday, the phone rang. It was Fern's family's lawyer. She could picture him with his polished mustache and fat-collared jacket, his feet on the desk. She had talked to him once when her parents had died the winter before and he had told her that he was sorry for her loss and would call in some months when the affairs were in order. Now his voice was flatter. "Fern," he said. "I don't know how to tell you this."

''I'm already an orphan," she said, trying to make a joke. What other news was there?

"There's no more money."

There had been so much for so long, the kind of sums that seemed immune to depletion. "How can there be no more money?"

"It was spent. And your father seems to have made some very generous gifts in his last year."

"Do you mean no money?"

"The eventual sale of the house will pay the taxes."

Fern found Edgar on the beach scraping barnacles off an old mooring.

"There's no more money," she said to him through the wind. "The money is gone." It was like announcing a death. The long­ ago earning of that money—slaves, cotton, rum—and the spending of it, were done. The money had lived its own life, like a relative.

"What do you mean?'' Edgar asked.

"Apparently some of my mother's sculptures are worth some­thing."

Edgar put the scraper down in the sand, got up and walked toward the water, dove in. He stayed under long enough that Fern thought he might not come back up. She called his name. She dove in too, wearing her dress, which dragged her down. She called him and called him. She spun in circles trying to find the ripples or bubbles that signaled his body. A moment later, Edgar's head appeared halfway across the cove. He ran his hands over his hair and eyes. He had swum the distance in one breath. Edgar turned and floated on his back, and Fern could hardly see him-his body was just a shadow between air and water.

Edgar remembered going in a limousine with his parents to a fancy holiday party at his father's downtown Chicago office when he was six. To get there they had to drive through the poorest neighborhoods and he had looked out at those falling-down apartment buildings and the dim lights inside and the trash on the street and at the children and there was Edgar, little Edgar with his tiny tux­edo and his shiny shoes and the small pocketwatch his father had clipped to his belt loop. He was on the inside of the car and the other people were on the outside. Edgar had reached over and rolled the window down a crack and the air that rushed at him was cold and smoky. His father had smacked his hand and rein­ stated the barrier. He had checked to be sure that the doors were locked. Edgar had felt the wet wool of guilt fall over him. He had looked to his mother to explain fortune, but she had bowed her head and was staring hard at her feet.

Even now that he was grown he could smell the limousine and he could smell the city outside. His had been a wished-for life, something viewed by everyone else from a great distance, and to voice even one experience of difficulty, of loneliness, was not welcome. Being rich had felt to Edgar like treading alone for all of time in a beautiful, bottomless pool. So much, so blue, and nothing to push off from. No grit or sand, no sturdy earth, just his own constant movement to keep above the surface. It was easy to hate riches when they surrounded him, but Edgar did not know how to be any other kind of person. He did not know that in every life the work of want and survival were just as floorless, just as unstopping.

When he had come out of the water and dried off, Edgar kissed his wife who was sitting on the sand in her wet dress. He said, "We'll figure something out." Though he had no idea how to earn money, this almost felt like good news. His first novel would be out in a year and maybe he could make something of it. They would be just like everybody else. She tried to talk but he said, "Let's not ruin my birthday. I'm going to get a Danish."

He drove to the little seaside market for coffee. A beautiful woman in line behind him said, "You look like someone who would appreciate a party." She was wearing cut-off jean shorts and white go-go boots. Her hair was uncombed and sandy and long and her wet bikini marked her shirt. She was his age or older, he thought, but she seemed sixteen.

"Not me. I'm not that kind of birthday boy," he said. "Is it your birthday?"

"Thirty-two," he said.

"I know how it hurts you boys to grow up. It's not so bad, you'll see." She borrowed a pen from the cashier and wrote down an address. "A friend of mine is hosting. Nine o'clock tonight," she said. "It'll be fun, no assholes."

All afternoon Fern thought about the magic key they still held: Edgar could leave their Cambridge life, go back and take over the family steel company in Chicago, his birthright as the only child, and fortune would follow him. It was the very last thing he wanted to do. He would not be able to publish the novel he had spent ten years writing because it was about the son of a steel baron who walks away from his father's money. But here were these three chil­dren and herself with all their various needs and desires, and she had not made this family alone. She looked out the kitchen win­dow at the blue, green and blue again. This was an expensive ocean to love. While the children played cards, Fern went into the bed­ room and, shaking, put her finger in the rotary phone's different circles, calling Edgar's mother.

That afternoon Fern and the children baked a chocolate cake that looked more homemade than they would have liked. The frosting melted and pooled on the plate. They boiled lobsters and clams and laid a whole bowl of drawn butter at each place setting. The table was clothed and decorated and everyone took showers. Edgar had been out on the water and when he came back his cheeks and eyes were red. Fern wanted to take him into the dark and say something that would make their good life continue.

Mid-meal, the phone rang again. "Fern, sweetheart," her father­ in-law said. "I hear there is something to celebrate. Are you having a party?"

She tried for cheer. "Lobster and steamers and chocolate cake."

"Good girl. Mary's on too. Say hi, Mary."

"Hi, darling," Fern's mother-in-law said.

"Can you put Edgar on the extension? So we can all be here together?" Hugh asked.

When their voices were all joined by wires, Edgar's parents sang to him.

His father said, "Edgar, I want you to know how welcome you are here at Keating Steel. In every way."

His mother let out a little chuff, the sound of someone who always knew she would win. "You'll see," she said. "You'll see how rich we will make you."

"Maybe it wouldn't be so bad," Fern said, almost too softly to be heard.

Edgar could not see his wife but he could hear her unsteady breath. He understood: she was trying to sell him. He had known her for eleven years and had never hated her, but here was a flare. He squeezed his fists until his nails nearly cut. Fern was ready to transform him into the kind of man who stayed up late in the night working to make the margins between cost and profit wider. So that she could continue to live in a house much bigger than anyone needed, he would have to spend his weekends playing the more dignified seasonal sports with men who ran other companies and they would talk about bottom lines and taxes and subsidies and overseas manufacturing and their tennis games. Fern would turn as vapid as the other wives, all manicure and hairdo and crisp pleats. They would host and attend, host and attend in a spiral of meaningless parties. Their children would go on to the do the same thing, and their children after, the whole ancestry one long string of spent and earned, appearance main­tained, standards adhered to and passed on and one never asking what any of it meant, whether any good had ever once been done.

Fern wanted to see Edgar's eyes. She wanted to yell and apologize and hide.

It snuck up on Fern, how hard and fast she began to cry. "My," said Mary. "Fern, what bad hay fever you have."

The children insisted on singing "Happy Birthday" as soon as their parents were off the phone. "Make a wish," Cricket said, and Edgar blew out thirty-two tiny flames, plus one to grow on.

Edgar looked at Fern. They both had red eyes. He said, "What about my book?"

"You made two thousand dollars on it. I don't know what else to do," she said.

"I'm going out," he said. "I'll be back in a few hours."

Meet the Author

Ramona Ausubel is the author of the novel No One Is Here Except All of Us, winner of the PEN Center USA Fiction Award and the VCU Cabell First Novel Award, and finalist for the New York Public Library's Young Lions Fiction Award. She is also the author of the story collection A Guide to Being Born, and has been published in The New Yorker, One Story, The Paris Review Daily, and Best American Fantasy

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Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could not put this book down. Brought back many similar ontarget memories and occurances of our US history while reading this book. All cleverly intertwined with believably real multi generational characters and plot focus on family, love, sacrifice, and survival! Great book!
KateUnger 9 months ago
Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty is a very character-driven book. I heard it described as a dysfunctional family novel, which is why I wanted to read it, and while the characters are certainly dysfunctional, I don’t know if this book qualifies for that “genre.” To me dysfunctional family stories usually have secrets and lies but also confrontation and drama. There are secrets in this book, but almost no action. I was very disappointed. Fern and Edgar are happily married in 1976. They’re living an extravigant life paid for with her parent’s money. Edgar has chosen not to take over his father’s steel business because he abhors money – kind of ironic considering how they’re living. He’s spent the last 10 years working on a novel, which is finally about to be published. Fern has been busy mothering their three children, Cricket (age 9) and the twins, James and Will (age 6). Then suddenly the money is gone. Fern’s parents estate is finally processed after their deaths some months earlier. Fern and Edgar both respond in the worst way and run away from their lives…separately. About 90% of this book was backstory, and while some aspects were interesting, ultimately, I was left wondering when something was going to happen. Spoiler: Nothing much ever really does. I enjoyed the portions that focused on the children the most. Left home alone, Cricket is rather resourceful. I felt for the three of them. They were completely innocent in this situation. Fern and Edgar on the other hand were annoying and spoiled. This book is a snapshot of the lives of the American elite, but that wasn’t enough to hold my attention. http://opinionatedbooklover.com/review-sons-and-daughters-of-ease-and-plenty-by-ramona-ausubel/
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Boring and difficult to finish.
Ilovemister More than 1 year ago
It was a great book. The thing is this could happen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago