Every so often, you come across something that’s the perfect hybrid of what you’re looking for. If it’s a girl, maybe she’s both stunningly beautiful, disarmingly intelligent and remarkably easy to get along with. As a kid, you might find that perfect sports role model… the athlete with the million-dollar smile to match his contract, the one that stays out of the news for the wrong reasons and in it for the right ones. Or, sometimes it’s as simple as a candy bar with pretzels AND chocolate.

& Sons, by David Gilbert, is that hybrid—for me at least—in the literary world. Sharp dialogue and a catchy plot, relatable characters with enough fanciful imagination and relationships we’ve all had. Oh, and did I forget to mention, writing so crisp and clear it’s like the book was written for you personally.

If any of this sounds familiar, that’s because it should. Our own Jason Rice reviewed this book about 7 months ago. As I do now, he gushed. I read that review (and his pre-review) at the time and thought… come on, really?

And now, nearly half a year later, I can say… yes, really.

The general subject matter of the book (following the family of A.N. Dyer, Gilbert’s creation of a Salinger rival) seemed intriguing enough. We kick things off at Charles Topping’s funeral, which is where we meet our on-again, off-again narrator, his son Phillip. By the time Charles’ childhood friend Andrew (known to the world at large as A.N. Dyer) bumbles through a eulogy, we’ve learned all we need to know as a framework for a story that truly doesn’t stop growing until it’s fully blossomed in its conclusion.

First, Phillip’s just recently wrecked his own family due to marital infidelities. Second, A.N. Dyer is a recluse who is dealing with the final stages of his own crumbled/crumbling(?) life.  Third, Phillip grew up with the Dyer boys, Richard and Jamie. Fourth, there’s a new Dyer, a youngest son named Andy who is conspicuously absent. And finally, there’s this, the closing to part one of the novel:

“By late March we would all return to this church.”

As you read on, you’re lead to think a few different ways about what exactly Phillip’s referring to there. Maybe it’s A.N. Dyer himself, he’s old enough to fit the bill. Perhaps it’s Richard, the eldest Dyer and a former drug-addict turned counselor (oh, and lest we forget, aspiring screen writer caught between a rock and a hard place by movie producers looking to buy the rights to the most popular of A.N. Dyer’s collection, Ampersand). Then again, could it be Jamie, he of the world-travelling filmmaking variety, or youngest son Andy?

The truth is, until the moment where Gilbert reveals his final action, you won’t know.

Beyond any clever writing (lines like “Most of their friends were rich, it just happened that way, like a baseball game attracts baseball fans” or “..his normal, everyday emotions, which had all the qualities of spin art: thrilling in movement, uninspired at rest” take you places only a great writer can) or plot twists, what lies at the heart of this story is family.

Fathers and sons, friends, husbands and wives, parents and children. The relationship webs created by family that both tie us together and, at times, rip us apart are the heart and soul of this novel. You don’t need to have had a child or been fathered by a largely absent, once-in-a-generation author to understand this book.

You simply need to know what it’s like to believe in family, to believe in that generational bond.

As we can tell from the picture Gilbert paints so eloquently, it’s a relationship not always pretty, but always there and that’s more than you can say for most.