Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
on 3 September 2014
Set principally in contemporary New York, & Sons is a high literary romp through the modern family, the modern novel and the ancient notion of fathers and sons. To call it flawless would be something of an overstatement, because there are some flaws for sure, but the helicopter view is that this is one of the best US novels of the century, perhaps of all centuries. One feels more than slightly in awe. The plot is dense and intense and hard to summarize. It is a long story and very tough to cut short. It is also a very easy read.
A.N.Dyer is an American literary lion, heading fast into his 80th year and famously reclusive. He has done nothing of note for many years. The novel opens with the funeral of his lifelong friend, Charlie Topping. Dyer has two (or three) sons, and Topping has a couple himself, the significant one being Philip Topping who will be the peripatetic narrator of the work. Philip has lost his job when he meets Dyer at the funeral and Dyer offers him a room, (his son Richard’s room) in his Central Park apartment. Philip is a kind of stalker of the Dyer clan, contemporary and school chum of Richard and Jamie – Dyer’s real sons – who has been regularly mocked and abused by the great man’s offspring.
Dyer has a third son, Andy, named after his father, who is the product of a dalliance with a Swedish au pair and the cause of the disintegration of Dyer’s previously happy marriage. Son 1, Richard, is an ex-junkie and now an evangelical proselytizer for AA etc, who has had nothing to do with his father for years. Significantly, his son Emmet, is the same age as Andy. Consumed by his own mortality in the face of his friend’s death, Dyer summons and/or begs Jamie (second son) and Richard to NY for a family conference.
The comes one of the most absurd and ridiculous ideas in world literature. There is no way of summarizing the subtlety and skill with which Gilbert handles it. It is a superb piece of literary prestidigitation, almost unparalleled. We are reading a breathlessly claustrophobic piece of realism and suddenly we have … It works. It’s brilliance.
Where are the faults? From time to time you lose the narrator. Um… that’s it.
Modern American style is to try to remove all authorial voice, to be stylish without style. Gilbert does not do that at all. There is more confidence in this work that I have seen for ages. He has no fear whatsoever of an image or an allusion. It’s been a joy to spend so much time with a writer so ready to declare his own greatness.
Gilbert knows who he is and he stomps very carefully into what is probably the ‘great’ NY novel of recent years. It is highly literary, unashamedly highly literary. The interweaving with McBeth is outstanding.
Every time Gilbert approaches his contemporaries – notably DeLillo – and pokes them with a stick, he seems simultaneously benign and predatory.
This is a novel executed at the highest possible level, American Flaubert.