& Sons by David Gilbert is a story about the men of the Dyer and Topping families over a brief week, but also throughout their entire lives. Told in the present, yet full of flashbacks and memories so rich you would think the narrators had just endured the pain of the memories, & Sons is about the fathers, the sons, themselves…and they are all described in such descriptive detail that the reader feels a bit voyeuristic, knowing such deeply personal things about the men who make up these fictional New York families.
Beginning at the funeral of Charles Topping – the best friend of renowned yet reclusive author Andrew Dyer – Topping’s son Phillip narrates the event, and the inner thoughts of every Topping and Dyer gentleman in attendance. After moving in with the eldest Dyer, one of the many uncomfortable moments Phillip makes the reader endure, Phillip watches Andrew and his three sons in a second attempt to fuse himself into the lives of the Dyer men. Long obsessed with the author, wishing to be another of Andrew’s son, to be a Dyer son’s best friend, to be Andy Jr.’s favorite teacher, Phillip observes the family’s quick recovery after years of estrangement, followed even more quickly by a crash.
There might be no gods, but we are still their playthings.
Life, I’m convinced, is filled with far more near misses than we dare to imagine. Late in waking up, missing a train, not answering a phone, going down 79th Street instead of 80th Street – how many of those moments have spared our life?
I found myself submerged in Gilbert’s writing. I was sitting in the pews, I felt the chill of the early Spring air, I felt the creak in my arthritic bones. But I felt all of this without reading anything as mundane as “it was cold out”. And I felt the resentment, the lust, and the hollowness, usually more than one at a time.
In my defense, I loved her. Then again, I’m guilty of easily falling in love, of confusing the abstract with the conrete, hoping the words might cast me as a caring individual and dispel my notions of a sinister center. I believe in love at first sight so that I might be seen.
I have no brothers or sons, but the familial intimacy – or lack thereof, depending on which character was expounding on their past or their present – is one that I believe some adult readers can relate to. The novel’s themes are relevant to most adults, and would be life-changing for teens if they were mature enough to realize that they can, in fact, learn from others’ mistakes.
Fathers start as gods and end as myths and in between whatever human form they take can be calamitous for their sons.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach is quite similar to this, as it is a deep, layered look into quite a few characters who each could be the star of their own book.
Adults, men or women, who enjoy description and language.