Kathleen Maher’s novel centers around the dissolution of the proto-typical American family. Mom, dad, son, daughter. Dad is the breadwinner, a former Eagle Scout and Boy Scout supporter who teaches Political Science. The kids go through the normal growing pains, although the son does follow dad up the Boy Scout ladder. Mom stays home and lives a housewife existence rarely seen today. The daughter rebels — at times.
Not surprisingly, the “underground nest” of the title tells us that just beneath the surface, a nest of hornets await. Zach Severins is the dad, and beneath his perfect surface is an obsession with himself and what others think of him, a tendency to find sex outside of his marriage, and eventually a long-term relationship with a woman who moves in the top circles of Washington D.C.
Eventually, the surface collapses and we watch as Zach’s perfect life is exposed for the lie it is. To avoid giving away too much of the plot, suffice it say that everything unravels. The result is that Zach is forced to reexamine himself and given the chance to redeem his life. The novel ends before we see if a promising beginning is followed through, but I’m not convinced that two years down the road, he would not be in a similar situation.
The story is interesting and Maher moves the plot along quickly and deftly. Where it suffers is in the characters, a group of somewhat two-dimensional people who must have more going on than what we see. As a result, the reader is often surprised at what is happening. After they separate, Zach and his wife, Beth, have an ongoing “angry sex” routine, but from we know of Beth, this seems out of character. Even the children seem to move in and out of anger faster than the normal teenager who finds out their dad has been having an affair.
Still, the novel raises questions about how we live our lives, and takes the side of living the well-considered life. It does so within a scenario many of us will recognize, which makes the possibility of actually taking some away from it all the more likely.