A wry and addictive debut about a modern-day American dynasty and its unexpected upheaval when the patriarch wills his dwindling fortune to his youngest, adopted son—setting off a chain of events that unearth family secrets and test long-held definitions of love and family.
The money is old, the problems are new...
The Whitbys: a dynasty akin to the Astors, once enormously wealthy real-estate magnates who were considered “the landlords of New York.”
There was a time when the death of a Whitby would have made national news, but when the family patriarch, Roger, dies, he is alone. Word of his death travels from the longtime family lawyer to his clan of children (from four separate marriages) and the news isn't good. Roger has left everything to his twenty-one-year-old son Nick, a Whitby only in name, including the houses currently occupied by Shelley and Brooke—two of Roger’s daughters from different marriages. And Nick is nowhere to be found.
Brooke, the oldest of the children, who is unexpectedly pregnant, leads the search for Nick, hoping to convince him to let her keep her Boston home and her fragile composure. Shelley hasn’t told anyone she’s dropped out of college just months before graduating, and is living in her childhood apartment while working as an amanuensis for a blind architect, with whom she develops a rather complicated relationship. And when Nick, on the run from the law after a misguided and dramatic act of political activism, finally shows up at Shelley’s New York home, worlds officially collide as Nick and the architect's daughter fall in love. Soon, all three siblings are faced with the question they have been running from their whole lives: What do they want their future to look like, if they can finally escape their past?
Weaving together multiple perspectives to create a portrait of an American family, and an American dream gone awry, Baby of the Family is a book about family secrets—how they define us, bind us together, and threaten to blow us (and more) apart—as well as an amusing and heartwarming look at the various ways in which a family can be created.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.30(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.50(d)|
About the Author
Maura Roosevelt holds an MFA from NYU in fiction writing and a BA from Harvard. For the past four years, she has been a full-time lecturer in NYU’s essay writing program, and currently teaches writing at the University of Southern California. Her work has been published in places like The Nation and Vol. 1 Brooklyn. Baby of the Family was developed from a short story with the same title, which was published in Joyland magazine and given an award for “Most Read Story of 2014.” Maura is also the great-granddaughter of Eleanor and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Reading Group Guide
1. Wealth—whether it’s the loss or the preservation of it—is at the center of Baby of the Family. Which characters are motivated by monetary need? Why do you think that is? How does it change your opinion of them?
2. Baby of the Family is set in 2003, but the nods to the time period are subtle; there are cell phones, but not everywhere. Shelley’s relationship with Mr. Kamal exists pre-#MeToo. Even the style of political activism feels slightly different. Do you think the book would have been different had it been set in 2019?
3. Both Shelley and Nick are only children, yet Brooke is surrounded by and feels a connection to her other siblings as well. How does this factor into their approaches and reactions to the will, and one another?
4. There is a troubling imbalance of power in the relationship between Shelley and Mr. Kamal. How do you view Baby of the Family through the lens of the #MeToo era?
5. After so much time spent looking through the eyes of the Whitby family, Grace’s chapters are from the perspective of an outsider. Did her narrative give you a different way of interpreting the interconnectedness and dynamics of the Whitbys? Are the families similar in any way?
6. Did the meaning of the title change for you over the course of the book?
7. Did your definition of family or familial bonds change over the course of the novel? How do you think Nick, Shelley, and Brooke’s own definitions changed—or didn’t?
8. The Kamals’ and, to a lesser extent the Wainwrights’, are the only active marriages we see for most of the book. How do these relationships compare or contrast with Roger’s four failed marriages?
9. The Whitby legacy is based on real estate, and in Baby of the Family, there is an underlying theme of searching for home. By the novel’s end, do you believe any of the characters have found a lasting home or sense of belonging? Why or why not?
10. Brooke’s decisions regarding her pregnancy shine a sudden light on the mothers in the novel. What do you think their roles are in the story? How did they affect the way you saw the other characters?
11. Did the epilogue surprise you? In what ways?
12. The novel begins with Roger’s death, which creates shockwaves for the entire family. Do you think the children are able to grieve for him? How is their experience of losing Roger complicated by his actions in life? Do you believe they find resolution and closure by the end of the novel?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"Baby of the family" centers around a modern-day American dynasty - the Whitbys. When the family patriarch, Roger Whitby Jr. dies, he lefts all the fortune to his adopted son Nick. This book is told in three POVs in multiple timelines: Nick, Brooke and Shelley - three children, each of different marriage and the fortune is the tension of this book. Roosevelt writes a portrait of a wealthy family which each member faces their struggles and insecurities. There are family secrets/crisis, society pressure and political activism. The storyline is fundamentally character-driven: the author develops the three half-siblings' lives and shows us their background (past) plus the motivations that resulted in their current behavior. Although I found the plot quite flat sometimes, I enjoyed most Shelley for her unique thoughts and personal growth. I wasn't connected with the secondary characters and I think that some events could have taken another perspective. In the end, the author brought all things together. This fictional novel about Whitbys can, in some point, be related to Roosevelt lineage. Thus I would recommend this title if you enjoy wealthy family drama.