Recommended Reading: David Gilbert’s & Sons

Herewith, Dear Readers, a list.

Types of Contemporary Novels Carolyn Does Not Tend To Enjoy 

  1. books in which all the major characters are male
  2. books in whole or in part written from the perspective of teenage boys
  3. books about writers
  4. books about rich people
  5. books about New York City

photo (105)David Gilbert’s & Sons* is a book in which all the major characters are male, one of whom is a teenage boy, two of whom are writers, all of whom are wealthy, that takes place in New York City.

And I loved it.

[This was perhaps not entirely surprising, given the general acclaim that followed the novel’s publication last year (it’s now out in paperback).]

& Sons is a big, sprawling, very literary sort of novel, helmed by a somewhat unreliable and undeniably removed narrator (think Nick Carraway**) and populated with flawed and fascinating characters.

The novel’s four main characters are acclaimed novelist A. N. Dyer, a writer whose first book achieved Catcher In the Rye***-type status, sent him into Salinger-style reclusiveness and whose subsequent output seems to match Philip Roth’s; his estranged eldest sons Richard (a recovering addict with anger issues and hoped-for screenwriting career) and Jamie (an avant-garde filmmaker with commitment issues, and many other issues; and the novelist’s youngest son, Richard and Jamie’s half-brother Andy, whose birth seventeen years earlier led to A. N. Dyer’s divorce.

The death of Andrew Dyer’s best friend, Charles Topping (whose son Philip is our narrator) seems to signal the coming end for the writer; at the funeral, says Philip, “[h]is posture reminded me of a comma, its intent not yet determined” (10). He calls all his sons together, and in a few days of frenetic activity, we meet the family, and it’s not exactly a Royal Tenenbaums collection of quirky types, though there’s a showstopping twist about halfway through the novel.

As I noted above, this is a book about men; fathers and sons and brothers, especially, but a certain type of men, who grew up wealthy in New York City, were shipped off to Philips Exeter, and have all the neuroses to prove it. They sound insufferable, but in Mr. Gilbert’s excellent prose — perfect comedic timing, graceful shifts in tone and form, masterful pacing — these men become interesting, then compelling, and finally, weirdly, moving.

A note on this paperback edition: I don’t have the hardcover to compare, but offered here along with the novel is a conversation between Mr. Gilbert and Curtis Sittenfeld (author of American Wife), which is just delightful reading, as well as a series of questions posed to the reader by Mr. Gilbert, a revelatory take on the usual Reader’s Guide.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes, which did not affect the content of my review.

** Confession 1: I do not care for The Great Gatsby.

*** Confession 2: I loathe The Catcher in the Rye.