Book Review: & Sons: A Novel by David Gilbert

& Sons: A Novel by David Gilbert
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Random House

Summary:  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.

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.   

I won a copy of this book from Goodreads First Reads and I was thrilled to tear right into it. The synopsis sounded fascinating and I had this on my To Read list for some time before I saw the giveaway. I love books about books, authors, writers, book shops, libraries, librarians and book culture in general so I'm somewhat predisposed to enjoy the theme. And I did, for the most part. I do have to say though, that this wasn't a favorite or strong like for me. I think my departure with it comes down to the characters. I won't spoil but I had difficulty getting a handle on Phillip Topping (our narrator). He has not only some omniscience that I couldn't quite work out, he had an obsessive, ingratiating way with the Dyers in general, and A.N Dyer, in particular that was off-putting and as if that weren't problem enough, he was fairly early on clearly, an unreliable narrator. By the time a huge twist happens near the end, I was left not knowing if he was truly complicit, imagined that he was or innocent of all but a vivid imagination. Truthfully, I'm really hard pressed to care too much to give it further thought, one way or another. The important thing is, it's done now.

I had issues with other characters in the story but none so deeply that they ruined nor made the story for me. I did enjoy the postcards, letters and excerpts that are sprinkled throughout the story and felt they added a nice patina to the story overall. I didn't very much enjoy Ampersand's excerpts but only because it was the harsh mirror of some history between two characters in the story. A.N Dyer was a complete jerk in his day. I was completely annoyed with the reveal of Andrew's parentage because it seemed insane and not hinged in reality but by the end of the story I don't know if that revelation was supposed to be serious or not and as before, the important thing is, it's done now.

This was a three star read for me. Some of the prose is absolutely lovely and that I think was what I liked most. The characters, I could take or leave and not a one of them will stay with me very long. Still, I'm glad that I read this, it was a fairly quick read and I definitely will pass my copy on to my husband because possibly a male psyche will find more personal resonance than I did.

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