As soon as I finished this book, I immediately requested Susan Rieger’s other novel, The Divorce Papers from the library, without even looking at the description. The Heirs is just that much of a recommendation.
Susan Reiger’s The Heirs is a blend of manners novel and family saga. The story opens with the death of Rupert Falkes. His end of life involves the best of medical care, attention from his wife Eleanor, and visits from their five sons. Almost immediately after his death, Eleanor receives a letter from a woman claiming to be her late husband’s mistress, and the mother of two more of his sons.
It’s almost a melodrama, with massive inheritances, infidelities and secrets, but it’s also a bit of a sweet meander through family history and memories. There’s almost no tension in this story, since characters are so cocooned in money and privilege, I never worried about their welfare, but I was intensely curious about their choices. The family is New York enough that Upper West Side is vastly different than Upper East, and uptown enough that more than one of the heirs thinks downtown is distant enough for adultery.
The central question of the story is happiness in marriage, and so The Heirs looks at why and how the Falkes came together, their backgrounds and expectations and previous relationships. This marriage produces five boys, and of course a parents’ marriage affects the children, so we see how they grew and how they chose their partners. (I expected to be completely confused by the five boys and their British-monarch names, but their personalities diverge pretty early on in the novel.) The book explores the relationships of Eleanor’s parents, and the story of her first love — a Jewish boy she was forbidden to marry — and the woman he ultimately marries, revealing fascinating stories, in wider and wider circles, but all circling this basic question of happiness in marriage.