19 November 2014

Review #81: & Sons by David Gilbert

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

John Robert Wooden, a retired American basketball coach, quoted about "fathers" as:

“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating...too often fathers neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.”

David Gilbert, is one such American author, who has spun an incredible tale which explores the whole dimension of a father-son relationship in an all new angle, in his latest release, & Sons .

Told from the first person narrative, Philip Topping unfolds a story about the life and times of his favorite author, A.N. Dyer, who also happens to be his father's best friend. The Manhattan funeral of Charles Henry Topping would have been a minor affair but for the identity of the eulogist: reclusive author A.N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of teenage angst. Now Andrew Newbold Dyer takes stock of his own life, the people he’s hurt and the novel that will endure as his legacy. He realizes he must reunite with his three sons before it’s too late. Eldest son Richard is a screenwriter in Californian exile. In the middle is Jamie, who has spent his life capturing the sorrow that surrounds him. And last is Andy, now a pupil at the boarding school that inspired Ampersand. It is only when the hidden purpose of the reunion comes to light do the sons realize what’s at stake – for their father, themselves and three generations of Dyers.

Sounds terrific from the blurb but it was a real challenge for me to read this “brilliant masterpiece” of Gilbert. I wanted to get inside the lives of the characters so much, but it felt like something kept pushing me away from them. Moreover, I felt very, very lost almost in the midway of the book. Following that long, meandering course of history and A.N.Dyer's resentment as a bad father to his sons sometimes bored me a lot and also took me away from the very core of the story. Well, I really wanted to like this epic tale about a father and his sons, but unfortunately, I could make myself like the story even for a bit. Where will I begin!! Let’s break this review in certain points:

Plot: I'm not any highly acclaimed critic working for the NY Times or Publishers Weekly, I represent the common man and what I understood from the plot is that it is totally going to contradict those sophisticated professional reviewers. The plot was developing/ building at a very nice pace, in the beginning of the book. Even the opening scene of the book- the funeral of Charles Topping, was quite fantastic in the context where we are just going to learn about his self-loathing best friend, Andrew. But unfortunately right after the first chapter, the whole plot started to go downhill along with my attention. I mean tell me what was the role of this Philip Topping, (son of Charles Topping) who narrates the whole story in a vengeful way, although no one in the Dyer family is much bothered with his presence? I wish if Andrew narrated the whole story, it would have got a much better depth to the plot.

Characterization: Frankly speaking totally awful except the male characters. Okay I get it, from Gilbert's POV, this is a story about fathers and sons and their individual stand and success and fame, but tell me isn't there a woman behind every successful man, and A.N.Dyer is a very popular author- bestselling! So how come we don't get to know about Isabel and her thoughts about her husband? The only women presence in the whole book was that of Isabel's- others were just a flirt here, flirt there! Well they say a strong character building affects the plot a lot and mind it- it did affect it very badly. You can't feed the readers whatever you feel right! If you want then give us some strong logic behind it! You say a simple affair broke the whole marriage between Andrew and Isabel, whereas, you feed us with Andrew's heartache and longing for Isabel, who happened to be happily married now. Tell me will the readers believe the angle you're trying to show- you should have shown us what Isabel felt about the affair and the love-child- Andy and about Andrew after seventeen years later! There was no scope to explore the relationship between Andrew and Isabel! There was one- Jeanie girl, who happens to be the love-interest of Andy's 'virgin' life, Alice- bed-partner of Jamie- the documentary film-maker, Candy- wife of Richard, another struggling film-maker and Eleanor Topping wife of Charles! But don't worry they all play hide-and-seek all throughout the story!

Twists: The only thing which was the positive point in the whole story. Mind-blowing twist was delivered by the author almost midway through the book and with such a complex and dramatic ending with a funeral makes the tale a bit edgy and in the end, I felt that was a quite brilliant ending, only if the whole journey of reading the book would have been much better. One riveting twist changes the whole course and flow of the story and I really liked that part of the book. And I'm pretty sure; such an unexpected turn will at least make you feel sympathetic to the whole aura of the story.

Setting/Location: New York Upper East Side- Yes that was the location of the book and not even for a single second, I felt like I was standing on the steps of the Metropolitan Art Museum, or neither did I felt the New York attitude and aristocracy in the whole tale. All I felt was art and literature.

Well there is another fictional story going on in the background and that was called Ampersand- story about teenage angst and which was related to Andy's life somehow. Well this story has pain, hope, resentment, hatred, loss and a lot of weird, funny moments, as a whole it has all the elements to be a great literary novel.

Verdict: If you love Gilbert's flawless prose and exquisite style of writing with all his intricate details, then grab this book for sure.

Courtesy: Thank You TripFiction for the book! 

Author Info:
David Gilbert is the author of the story collection Remote Feed and the novel The Normals. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and Bomb. He lives in New York with his wife and three children.
Visit him here 

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