Random House – On Sale 7-13
By the time this book is on the shelves, you will be swimming in all sorts of things. The “summer reads” will be everywhere, and Fall ’13 will be right around the corner. If you can pre-order & Sons from your preferred point of purchase, then when it arrives, you will be thanking me. For years I have coveted David Gilbert’s books, the collection Remote Feed, and his amazing debut novel The Normals.
I finished & Sons on Christmas Day, 2012, while waiting for my own son to arrive from his mother’s. I’d just spent many days and nights preparing for Christmas, getting those gifts ready, ensuring that my boy’s hair would be blown back, (it was) and also reading this great book.
At the center of this tale you will find three sons, a father, and another son that isn’t so much a blood relative, but a narrator of the most unreliable sort. A.N Dyer is the equivalent of J.D. Salinger and his novel Ampersand just as big, if not bigger than Catcher in the Rye. How do you sum up A.N. Dyer? How does one describe his life? You ask his sons. Well, no one asks them anything, but they show us everything. This entire story takes place in the company of dead people, and lives primarily in the past. This is what happened. Richard and Jamie are the engine, keeping the past alive, and they will leave you breathless as a relentless Gilbert never takes his foot off the gas. In the opening pages we meet A.N. Dyer, who is attending his best friend’s funeral in New York City, Charlie Topping has died, and as A.N. mumbles his way through a canned eulogy, Philip Topping, Charlie’s son, an unofficial Dyer boy, sits in shameful attendance, having just ruined his own marriage. Philip narrates this book from time to time, and for the most part, I felt like he was telling this entire story, making it up as he went along. I know that’s not true. Or maybe it is?
Richard Dyer has retreated to Hollywood, not knowing of the events taking place in New York City. He is trying to sell his first screenplay, but the big players in L.A. just want a shot at his father’s masterpiece Ampersand. Richard realizes this, and comes home to get the rights, or plans to. His brother Jamie is doing a crispy examination of his own decomposing past, and I said out loud when I realized what was happening, “oh no, don’t do this, please don’t.”
Almost as an afterthought Gilbert introduces Andy Dyer, A.N. Dyer’s youngest son, well, not really a son in the real sense of the word, but we don’t know that until later. Andy dangerously weaves in and out of this story (such perfect foreshadowing), and Gilbert moves this thread along so quickly that you almost have to pace yourself.
Richard and Jamie, Andy, and Philip find their lives more interesting as they recant them, and everything seems to be leading up to one night at the Frick Museum in New York City. Then A.N.’s wife comes along in a chapter that will completely kick your ass. She dips into her children’s lives, like a Ghost of Christmas Past. I actually want to look her up, buy her lunch, and listen to stories of the Dyer clan. Back and forth we go, from where these people are stuck in their collective histories to a frozen present, where everyone seems to be waiting for a train that never arrives.
These sons tell their father’s story, and in a way tell their own. They don’t particularly care for the father here, and blame travels like a dust bunny. I’m certain that if each one of these characters had it to do over, they would try something different, but then that would be another story. Richard and Jamie are wayward boys, both doing their own kind of rebelling; Richard with drugs, and Jamie is obsessed with death. Jamie is a strange guy, making movies about the dead, shocking, or at least trying to, until he accidentally becomes a sensation for his efforts. As sons they seem to be forever stuck in the long shadow of their father’s legend and unable to move forward. How do children of famous parents distinguish themselves?
Scattered in this story is a seriously incredible correspondence between A.N Dyer and Charlie Topping, which also tells a story. The Frick Museum plays a huge part, as it crops up here and there. A Hollywood type, and this guy is a “type”, arrives early on and I couldn’t figure out why, then I did, and it was so sweet, and perfect. He is friends with Richard, and only seems to be a crumb when we meet him, but he sets everyone and everything in motion with his “character”. These people weave drunkenly towards each other, sometimes with disastrous results, but in the end realize that you can’t pick your family.
I was crushed by the last fifty pages, sorry to see a certain someone go, and then immediately wanted to turn back to page one and read this book again.