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.
For the Falkes family, loyalty is a part of their very fabric. From the day each of the five Falkes boys came into the world, his family has had his back, guided his choices, and been there through both the successes and the failures. With their parents’ unconditional love and support and a picture-perfect marriage as their role model, each of the boys is supremely confident and successful. In fact, down to a man, each credits his success to his tight-knit family. When Rupert, the Faulkes’ family patriarch dies, the family does as they always have, they come together, support one another, and help each other through the grief. Just as their lives were getting back to normal, the lawsuit which will damn-near tear their family apart, is filed.
According to the lawsuit, there are actually seven Falkes boys and the mother of those two extra boys is looking for a payout, or what she believes her sons are due. When the original five Falkes boys are made aware of the lawsuit, each is justifiably shaken. They learned their sense of loyalty, of faithfulness, from their father so to be confronted by living, breathing proof of his betrayal is more than most of them can reasonably cope with. The only one of the remaining family seemingly unaffected by the lawsuit is Eleanor, their mother. In fact, Eleanor is surprisingly calm about the whole affair and is the one who helps set her boys (and their respective partners) back to rights.
The response to their father’s apparent betrayal is different for each of the Falkes boys and sets into motion events which have life altering consequences. There are affairs (ironically!), the separation of long-time couples, and trips down memory lane that are both happy and bittersweet. The boys turn to and turn on one another as they attempt to make sense of their parent’s life together. What they all thought they knew turns out to be patently incorrect and absolutely accurate as we see when Eleanor takes her own trips down memory lane.
The Bottom Line: I’m not sure anything I type here will adequately convey the breadth and the depth of this book. This isn’t a simple read, but a saga, a retelling of a family’s history following the death of their patriarch. Though each of the boys are grown, the secrets that come to light following their beloved father’s death rock them all to their very core. Each Falkes son must make sense of a lifetime of new information, process it, and make it a part of his new reality. In doing so, each son stumbles, makes stupid mistakes, says very hurtful things, and must ultimately make amends once acceptance and understanding have set in. The Heirs isn’t at all about the inheritance of money, but the inheritance of lies and betrayal, of a once close-knit family dealing with the fallout of that betrayal and finding their way back to one another. This book captivated me and though I had to make a list of the boys in order to keep them all straight, I found the read to be engrossing. Eleanor is perhaps the best of the bunch and it is her recollections and musings that help her boys through the worst of the pain and anger. It is her strong will, strength of character, and love that carries everyone through the darkest moments and helps them to see, though everything has changed, nothing has really changed.