review: & Sons a novel by David Gilbert

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& 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.

Read-alikes:
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.

Recommended for:
Adults, men or women, who enjoy description and language.

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Wednesday reads: no light reading

What a grab bag this week’s reads are. Zombie-people (kinda?), family relationships, and the true story of the aftermath of one of America’s worst natural disaster catastrophes. No light reading here, folks!

returnedThe Returned by Jason Mott is the story of how individuals and society deal with people returning from the dead – even 50 years after their death, as is the case with young Jacob, who died at age 8 and whose parents are now in their 70s. I’m waiting for it to get going, and I’m 6 CDs in, out of 9…so there is growing concern that the book will be more existential than literal. But check out the TV show trailer…although the storyline is drastically different, it looks awfully good. (The show is slated for Spring 2014.)

gilbert

& Sons by David Gilbert is the story of fathers, sons, men, and boys, all from the Topping and Dyer families of contemporary New York. Writers, students, professionals, amateurs…men from both families are one or the either, making for a fascinating and descriptive narrative.

Five-Days-at-Memorial-by-Sheri-FinkFive Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink is the product of incredible amounts of research into the goings-on at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans immediately before, during, and after rain and wind from Hurricane Katrina caused the levees to fail. I am a bit daunted – 200 pages in – with all the names and situations, but it is a harrowing tale.

review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

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The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell is yet another example of a stunning debut author of 2013. This year has not disappointed me, and I cannot wait for more. But, onto the review…

1920s New York City. Mobsters. The Charleston. Speakeasies. Glitz and glam. Rose Baker does not fit in this culture. Rose Baker is an observer, and the self-proclaimed moral barometer of the orphange where she was raised and the police precint where she is employed. She adores her boss the honorable Chief of Police, and abhores her gossipy roommate Helen. Her life is her job. That is, until the day a stunning woman walks into the precint to interview for the job of typist. Rose takes an unnatural interest in the raven-haired Odalie Lazare, and through no act of her own, somehow becomes the new girl’s best friend and roommate.

But Odalie is perfect for the era. She knows how to talk to men, how to order a drink, to smoke a cigarette. She is a modern girl. But she is no typist. In fact, she is no good at her job, and Rose constantly corrects it for her dear friend. But the job keeps her close to the goings-on of the police department which comes in handy for a woman whose real profession is less than legal during the time of the Volstead Act. These two women could not be more dissimilar.

The relationship between these two women is story alone, but Rindell added mystery and intrigue, and all at once the pace picks up and the reader is breathless and screams No, you have the wrong person! And then the reader’s breathing slows and wonders…do they?

This is an incredible novel with twists and turns at the end, but don’t worry…getting to the end is no chore. It is fun. Rindell’s writing is descriptive and delicious. You can hear, smell, and taste the city and all of the pleasures the women imbibe. I adored the details of the era, though I wish the author would have spent more time on the historical details and the backstories of the mobs and speakeasies. Oh well, that’s for another book I suppose. (Any recommendations??)

Recommended for:
Women. I think women would really enjoy this story of two incongruous women, and love the action of the glamorous fashions, drinks, and fun described.

Read-alikes:
Gatsby.

A sweet memory

Summer 2000, before my sister started her senior year of high school and I entered that big, scary world, my parents took us to New York City. We ate wicked good food at a hole-in-the-wall diner (I remember the omelet) and visited Time Square and visited with my uncle. One of my strongest memories of that trip was when mom, Amanda and I shared a frozen caramel coffee thing. It eventually became Amanda’s obsession, and the drink that led me to a 3 year long career. That drink came from Starbucks.

I haven’t had a caramel frappuccino in years, actually. I drank so many for so long, that I eventually grew to hate the taste. But I got a coupon in the mail last week. A coupon for a frozen caramel coffee thing that piqued my interest. Could this cheap imitation actually taste as good as the original? Well, McDonalds…good job. In one sip you sent me reeling back to New York City, Summer 2000, sharing a frozen caramel coffee thing with my two best friends. After savoring a few more sips and eating some whipped cream (it tastes just like their soft serve! Outstanding!) I called my sister. I asked her if she remembered what we drank that Summer of 2000 in the Big Apple. She did, and I told her that if she wanted that time back, the era of innocence, pigtails, “big pants”, then she would need to skip over to McDonald’s as fast as humanly possible, order a small caramel frappe, close her eyes, and reminisce.

While that first sip…okay, the first half, was utterly remarkable, the second half was less than desirable. The taste of cheap coffee becomes the first thing to hit your tongue, where the sweet and thick caramel once was. So either split it with someone (give them the second half), or use a coupon so you don’t feel bad when you throw the second half out.