Top positive review
Book set in New York ("the city at its most vivid")
on 30 April 2014
& Sons is a book that, in our terms, really brings New York to life. From the upmarket apartments on the Upper East and Upper West side, through the literary launch at the Frick, the over the top (and drug fuelled) limo ride across Brooklyn Bridge, the pretzel hunt through Central Park, and the mad romp around the Met... it is all there, the city at its most vivid. This is fiction set in New York, with the location as one of the key characters.
It is also a very ambitious (and challenging) work – a work that seeks to put David Gilbert into the category of Great American Novelist. It opens with a rambling eulogy that author, A N Dyer, gives at the funeral of his oldest friend, Charles Topping – and the story goes on to be told through the eyes of Charles’ son, Philip… a somewhat contrived and confusing individual with the gift of being able to move between the personae of the main characters. Other than A N (Andrew) Dyer, the three main male characters (David Gilbert doesn’t really do female..) are his two sons Richard and Jamie, and their much younger step brother, Andy. A N Dyer had written a major novel, Ampersand, at the age of 27 – and had lived off its glory for years afterwards. It had sold 45m copies. & Sons explores the impact this success of their father had upon Richard and Jamie – Richard now a recovered addict living in California, running drug rehabilitation workshops, and playing at being a screenwriter. Jamie a controversial maker of short You Tube documentaries that are in questionable taste. Andy is a teenager focused on getting laid by / with Sophie – a slightly older publishing assistant. Andy was a result (or was he?) of a brief liaison between A N Dyer and a Swedish au pair that brought down his marriage. He befriends Richard’s son, Emmett, and shows him New York. The story is the story of the interaction between the two full brothers – both intense sibling love and rivalry played out in a location that is home to neither of them.
The book is extraordinarily well and wittily written, even if some of the sentence and paragraph structures are a little convoluted and hard to follow. David Gilbert has vast literary knowledge and this plays through into many of the references in the book. It is without doubt a BIG book… Whether it quite works at every level, though, I am not sure. The revelations (not to be repeated here..) about Andy’s possible origins throw the whole work into a different – and, to me, slightly confusing - perspective. I was not entirely sure of the relevance or point…
All that said, & Sons is absolutely worth the effort and concentration required to read it. And, most importantly in TripFiction terms, the work really does bring New York quite vividly to the reader’s mind - and will be a great read for anyone heading in that direction. David Gilbert was brought up on the Upper East Side. The book is set in his own back yard – and it shows.