& Sons

By David Gilbert

(Random House, $27, 448 pages)

Who is this author?

David Gilbert has scored a solid hit with his second novel, variously titled “& Sons” or “And Sons.” His first novel was “The Normals,” and he also has published the story collection “Remote Feed.” His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and Bomb. He lives in New York with his wife and three children.

What is this book about?

A. N. Dyer is not J.D. Salinger, but he’s the same sort of reclusive genius of a writer and at odds with his three sons. The acclaimed author of “Ampersand,” set at a snobby boarding school, Dyer attempts to deliver a eulogy for an old friend but breaks down and decides it is high time for making amends. In the whirlwind week that follows, we meet the Dyer sons: a screenwriter, a documentary filmmaker and a prep school virgin whose birth precipitated massive family angst. This last stab at reuniting a fractured family is described by the dead friend’s son, who is close enough but far away enough from the maelstrom to witness it for us, though he has an agenda of his own.

Why you’ll like it:

A New Yorker, Gilbert has appeared in The New Yorker – his recent story there, “From a Farther Room,” a surreal account of a father who may or may not have given birth to a monstrous yet appealing offspring, is dark and devasting – yet also quite funny – an example of how brilliant his writing can be. “& Sons is garnering enthusiastic reviews for its similar qualities: wrenching developments, wittily told. Gilbert can go to the dark side with amazing aplomb. If you have not yet read him, it’s time to discover one of our present-day masters.

What others are saying:

Kirkus Reviews says: “A charming, often funny, sophomore novel by Gilbert (The Normals, 2004). Novels about novelists run the risk of being too meta on the one hand and too cute on the other, though some occasionally work…Gilbert wisely places as much emphasis on the surrounding players as on paterfamilias A.N. Dyer, who has written one particularly well-received coming-of-age novel and a host of other works that have established him nicely in the oak-paneled Upper East Side literary stratosphere. Those surrounding players are, somewhat in order, the late friend whose funeral opens the novel, then offspring, his own and the deceased’s: thus the “& sons” of the title, suggesting that literature might be a family business but more pointedly, that, in a household run with distant dictatorial benevolence, as if in a company, there’s going to be trouble. So it is with Dyer’s boys, gathered as Dad feels his own mortality approaching, who are a hot mess of failure coupled with ambition (and, for the most part, willing to work to attain it); one is a former addict, the other a maker of documentaries no one sees, still another, the youngest, is fully aware that he is the agent of his father’s split from his older brothers’ mother. Much of the story is a (mostly) gentle sendup of the literary life and its practitioners of the fusty old school and the hipster new (“You know what would give the story extra kick,” says one of the latter, “if the other guy was Mark David Chapman.”); a highlight is a devastatingly accurate peek into a hoity-toity book party. In the main, the novel moves without a hitch, though a couple of elements don’t quite hang together, particularly the place of the narrator, at once respectful and not quite trustworthy, in the whole affair. Still, Gilbert tantalizes with a big question: Will Dad, before he kicks the bucket, share some of his fortunes in any sense other than the monetary and bring his sons into the fold? Read on for the answer, which takes its time, most enjoyably, to unfold.”

“When someone uses the term ‘instant classic,’ I typically want to grab him and ask, ‘So this is, what, like the new ‘Great Expectations’? You sure about that?’ But David Gilbert’s novel “& Sons,” seductive and ripe with both comedy and heartbreak, made me reconsider my stance. . . . This is the book I’d most like to lug from one beach to another for the rest of summer, if only I hadn’t torn through it in two very happy days this spring. . . . Gilbert’s portrait of [New York City] and its literary set is as smart and savage in its way as Tom Wolfe’s “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” half love letter, half indictment, and wholly irresistible,” says NPR.

In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani writes:  “With “& Sons,” David Gilbert…has set out to write a big, ambitious book about fathers and sons, Oedipal envy and sibling rivalry, and the dynamics between art and life, talent and virtue. The novel is smart, funny, observant and occasionally moving. It does a wonderful job of conjuring up its characters’ memories of growing up in New York City in layered, almost Proustian detail, and it can be eloquent in its depiction of the weight of expectation—and resentment—that may fall upon the children of a legendary artist, especially if they aspire to follow in his footsteps. The novel also contains some razor-edge glimpses of literary life in Manhattan, and the rarefied latitudes inhabited by old Upper East Side money.”

“A marvel of uproarious and devastating missteps and reversals charged with lightning dialogue, Gilbert’s delectably mordant and incisive tragicomedy of fathers, sons, and brothers, privilege and betrayal, celebrity and obscurity, ingeniously and judiciously maps the interface between truth and fiction, life and art,” says Booklist in a starred review.

When is it available?

You can get this book now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or its Mark Twain branch.

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