Thursday, April 9, 2015

Book Review-& Sons

New York City is one of my favorite places to visit.  There is always so much to do there.  Last year, my daughter and I went to the Frick Museum.  It is a smallish musuem, but very nice.  What a surprise to have it turn up as the setting for a scene in a recent book.  I just finished & Sons by David Gilbert and one of the pivotal scenes in the novel takes place in the Frick.
& Sons is an odd title.  The book is about the relationships of fathers and sons, but also about a book written by one of the fathers called Ampersand.  A. N. Dyer is one of the fathers in the book and he wrote Ampersand about a boarding school.  In the world of & Sons it was on a par with Catcher in the Rye and A Separate Peace.  How much of Ampersand is fiction and how much is based on actual occurances is a pivotal question for the fathers and sons.
The book opens with the funeral of another father, Charlie Topping.  Topping was Dyer's best friend from childhood.  They grew up together and went to boarding school together.  We are told that as adults their friendship was kept in tact as much by their wives and children as anything else.  Dyer is asked by Topping's widow to speak at the funeral.  He doesn't really want to, as he is very reclusive, but tries.  It doesn't go well and Topping's youngest son, Phillip (who is the narrator, unreliable, as it turns out) steps in to help him back to his seat.  Phillip is going through some changes in his life-he is recently separated from his wife due to his infidelity-and mentions to Dyer that he is living in a hotel.  Dyer extends an invitation to live with him, which Phillip takes him up on, even though it was probably not a real invitation.
Dyer realizes, with the passing of Topping, that time is short.  He decides he needs to tell his sons something and demands that they visit him.  His two older sons, Richard and Jamie, are not on good terms with him.  Richard is living in Los Angeles with his wife and children (as far away from NYC as he can get), and Jamie lives in Brooklyn, but travels a lot making documentaries.  His youngest son, Andy, is Richard and Jamie's half brother.  Andy is only 17 and is living with Dyer when not away at boarding school.
The story is multilayered with lots of little twists and turns.  Each chapter opens with a letter between Dyer and Topping from their school days and early adulthood.  The letters hint at a backstory that is part of why Dyer and Topping are the men they are.
I liked that it was intricate and thought provoking.  I'm not sure I really liked any of the characters, but I think they grew a lot over the course of the story and perhaps became better people by the end.  I liked the descriptions of New York City, too, it was almost a character in its own right.  It is one of those books that you think about long after you've finished it.

And Sons
And Sons
By Gilbert, David
2013-07 - Random House
9780812993967 Check Our Catalog
The panoramic, deeply affecting story of an iconic novelist, two interconnected families, and the heartbreaking truths that fiction can hide. …More

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