Wednesday, January 27, 2016

& SONS by David Gilbert

Thank heavens I recently read Moby Dick, so that I know who Queequeg is.  Otherwise, those allusions would have missed their mark totally.  Certainly, this novel is snobbish in a prep school sort of way, but, after all, the novel is about a New York writer, A. N. Dyer, whose first novel, Ampersand, is a modern classic, on a level with The Catcher in the Rye.  Dyer, now in his 70s, still pecks away on his typewriter but is starting to face his own mortality.  The narrator is Philip Topping, son of Dyer’s recently deceased best friend Charlie.  Philip grew up as sort of a cousin to Dyer’s adult sons Richard and Jamie, both of whom are more or less following in Dad’s footsteps career-wise.  Dyer’s third son, Andy, is 17, the product of a mid-life fling and obviously the apple of his father’s eye.  Two major plot points dominate the story:  What is Dyer currently working on so ferociously and surreptitiously?  And why is Dyer so obsessed with Andy, to the point that he breaks down during his eulogy to Charlie because he has temporarily lost sight of Andy?  The answers to this two questions come to light fairly early in the novel, but then we find that Philip is interested in yet a third question:  What was his father’s relationship to Dyer like?  Some clues are found in the novel Ampersand, excerpts of which appear in this novel, and some clues appear in decades-old hand-written correspondence between the two men.  To say that this novel is full of itself is an understatement, and there are virtually no women characters.  Isabel, Dyer’s ex-wife, makes a strong but brief cameo appearance, and then there’s Andy’s crush, Jeanie Spokes, but she’s pretty much a lightweight as far as the plot is concerned.  I felt that the author’s aim was to create a piece of highbrow literature, but I’m not sure that he quite achieved that objective.  Still, it was a nice change from all the Oprah-esque stuff I’ve been reading.

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