Random House, 2013; 448 pages
I put that *(Ampersand)* in because Blogger doesn't handle the & sign very well in post titles. And that ampersand is very important in the title of (and, indeed, in the whole of) David Gilbert's new novel, & Sons.
The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years—before it’s too late.My Thoughts:
***So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand. But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.
This book grabbed me right from the start, even though I did have trouble with the unreliable-narrator shtick. Or in the case of & Sons, the absolutely-and-completely-implausible-narrator shtick. David Gilbert does a lot of playing around with the nature of fiction in this book, and I must admit that for a while I struggled mightily with that: I repeatedly found myself thinking, "But he couldn't possibly know that any of this happened." The "he" being Philip Topping, the book's narrator and one of the major characters.
Eventually, I started to ignore that little problem and just let the writing take over. Great idea. Gilbert is a wonderful writer, and & Sons is a mostly wonderful book. His creation, A.N. Dyer, a sort of combination of J.D. Salinger and John Cheever, has an enormous influence on his family and their friends -- an influence that inspires much love but also has the power to destroy.
Aside from the problems with the too-omniscient narrator, I had questions about a couple of other devices in the book. Can't really say much more than that here, because I don't want to give away plot developments, but those problems keep me from giving the book a four-star rating. But they certainly wouldn't keep me from recommending & Sons to anyone looking for fine read. This is one I can actually imagine reading again someday.
Rating: Three and a half stars
And my teaser:
"Tell him"--he wipes his nose and scrutinizes the blood--"that I'm fine, okay."
Lying back down, he closes his eyes, no longer believing the dream, it seems.
Do you want to know exactly what happened next? (p.411)
Note: This review refers to an advance reader's edition of this book, provided free of charge through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one tried to influence my opinions.
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