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The Heirs

Cover of The Heirs

The Heirs

A Novel
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Brilliantly wrought, incisive, and stirring, The Heirs tells the story of an upper-crust Manhattan family coming undone after the death of their patriarch

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.
Brilliantly wrought, incisive, and stirring, The Heirs tells the story of an upper-crust Manhattan family coming undone after the death of their patriarch

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.
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    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...

About the Author-
  • 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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from March 13, 2017
    In Rieger’s (The Divorce Papers) incisive novel a wealthy Manhattan family is thrown into disarray when their beloved patriarch, Rupert Falkes, dies and leaves a surprising legacy that may tear apart his heirs. When a woman claiming to be Rupert’s mistress and the mother of two of his sons demands her share of the estate, it’s not a question of money or reputation that sends the Falkes clan reeling, but the possibility that their close-knit bonds were all a lie. Rupert’s widow, Eleanor, and their five sons, Harry, Will, Sam, Jack, and Tom, all have different reactions to the grief and confusion as they weigh the decision to have DNA testing done to find out for sure. No matter what they decide, no matter what the outcome of that choice might be, they realize that what they really seek is closure. Rieger wrestles perceptively with difficult questions and, building off a deceptively pedestrian premise, 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. Reiger’s book is a tense, introspective account of looking for truth, and instead finding peace.

  • Brit + Co "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."
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The Heirs
A Novel
Susan Rieger
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