This extraordinary debut novel is a contemporary American tragedy of breathtaking scope: a story of pharmaceutical drug trials and Wall Street corruption; of pride and prejudice; of paranoia and office politics; of inheritance, influence, class, and power.


Cecilia Somner, a larger-than-life heir to a robber baron’s fortune, once known for her cruel wit as much as for her tremendous generosity, is now in opulent decline. Afflicted with a rare disease and touched by mortality for the first time, her gilded, bygone values collide with an unforgiving present. 

As her troubled son George and his outsider wife Iris struggle to resolve mounting financial and familial troubles, CeCe must face the Somner dynasty's dark legacy; all three must learn what life beyond the long, shimmering shadow cast by the family's past may become. But when George's secrets culminate in a life-changing turn of fate, no riches can put things right for the unfortunate Somners. 

The Unfortunates, hilarious and heartbreaking by turns, is most of all a meditation on love: as delusional obsession, as transformation, and ultimately as a coming to grace.



"Just often enough, some unknown writer darts from the forest of little magazines to publish a novel that blows away the gathering shades of cultural despair...brilliant social satire...I moved through with a slowly accruing sense of awe as these characters grew simultaneously more outrageous and more sympathetic."
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“…wonderfully precise and subtle—not to mention unexpectedly moving…Sophie McManus, young as she is, is a truly dexterous writer, one who eyes the insular world she has chosen to crack open for us with as much wisdom as wit. In the process, she has succeeded in giving the rich their multifaceted due, earning for them a modicum of compassion. One wonders where her formidable gift for social satire will take her next.”
--Daphne Merkin, THE NEW YORKER
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“The real surprise, though, is CeCe, who emerges as sharp, wise — and eventually, even truly generous. She’s the one who gives the novel its remarkable maturity and heft.”
--Britt Peterson THE NEW YORK TIMES
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"[In] McManus's extravaganza of a novel...there are truths that should not be ignored, about privilege, and desire, and how to live a life that yields something other than regret. And there's also a hugely enjoyable story, delivered by a startling new talent.
--Marissa Stapley THE GLOBE AND MAIL
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"A powerful read...The Unfortunates is the opposite of un-put-downable; it's easy to steep yourself, take a break, and then get sucked back in, like a Somner in the thrall of his own legacy."
--Claire Howorth, TIME MAGAZINE
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"If one were to pin the genesis of great debut novels on any given beast, there would be no better creature than Love. For Sophie McManus’ debut, she does not simply ride this beast and tame it; instead, The Unfortunates recognizes the beast in all of its facets and presents them all."
--B. David Zarley, PASTE MAGAZINE
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“McManus takes her readers through all of it with such narrative gusto (and a great many very pretty turns of phrase) that you’d think this were her twentieth novel instead of her first. She never quite sympathizes with George or CeCe, but she never quite condemns them either; she seems content to lay out their inner and outer lives – with exquisite, fine-tuned detail – and then let her readers decide.”
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"Ms. McManus is a talented, intelligent writer, and the story is as well-paced as a good thriller."
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"Irresistible...a knowing, often funny saga of a wealthy New York family and its presumptions, privilege, secrets and regret." 
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"This first (I find it very hard to believe) novel is about a year in the life of three members of a socially prominent family--matriarch, adult son, his wife. Money, class and madness, yes, and prose so good I shook my head in wonder. If you are the type of reader who underlines good sentences, forget it. There's not enough lead in your pencil. The Unfortunates is a sensation."
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"The writing is so perfect, crisp, polished, it defies the term 'debut author.'"
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"In her assured first novel, McManus dissects such headline topics as Wall Street corruption, income inequality, and the vagaries of class and power in contemporary her great credit, McManus uncovers the humanity in a group that rarely receives our empathy, even as she exposes the dark side of privelage and entitlement in a timely novel enriched with touches of Edith Wharton."  
--June Sawyers, BOOKLIST

Advance Praise for The Unfortunates: 

"Sophie McManus’s stunning debut novel The Unfortunates revisits American money – the same Old Money (New York, industrial, turn of the twentieth century) that in the fiction of Wharton and James was still new money – and brilliantly reconfigures the tradition of fiction about the very rich, where hereditary entitlement meets the way we live now: hedge funds and clinical trials, shady real estate developers, pet foundations, the special legal and medical arrangements that lavish donation may buy.

What is truly rich about this first novel, beyond the over privileged social class in question, is the brilliant language – lucid, quick, accessible, and yet almost cubist in its syntactical swerves and surprising word choices – with which Sophie McManus invests the inner lives of the Somners, three unforgettable and finally poignant protagonists: the charming, deluded and manically incompetent would-be opera librettist George Somner; his beautiful, kind, naïve wife Iris; and his iron-willed, outrageously controlling mother CeCe."

— Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule


“Is there anything Sophie McManus can’t do? Whether it’s New York high society or the Amazonian rubber industry or the stubborn indignities of old age, McManus writes with brio and with humor and with immense sympathy.  The virtuosity in these pages is astonishing, but just as astonishing is this novel’s abiding heart.”

— Joshua Henkin, The World Without You


“In finely etched detail as sharp as shards of glass, McManus reveals in The Unfortunates the corrupting power of wealth and the myriad ways it infects individual lives, and families.  As relevant as it is compulsively readable, this wonderfully composed triptych of Somners—Cecilia Somner, the aging matriarch; her troubled son, George, and his outsider wife, Iris—function as the heart of this novel about the potential monstrousness of privilege, and the responsibility of facing one’s legacy.”

— Amanda Coplin, The Orchardist


"Sophie McManus has a shrewd eye for telling gestures and an ear for cruel speech and kindness.  She is an incisive, surprising prose stylist, and her debut novel, The Unfortunates, heralds an exciting new talent with an old soul."

— Christine Schutt, Prosperous Friends

A big, chewy novel written with comic panache and an infectious tenderness toward the blunders of its heroes.  The Unfortunates is both a mirror on the income inequality of the current moment and a social novel in the old, grand, plotty mode: voracious for detail and punctuated by gasp-inducing turns of fate.  Its subjects are money and the people unfortunate enough to have it. Who knew the rich deserved so much to be pitied?

— Salvatore Scibona, The End