Monday, August 19, 2013

& Sons by David Gilbert

This novel had a neat premise. Gilbert imagined the upbringing and life of a famous reclusive author, A.N. Dyer, and his sons. The story is mostly told from the point of view of the son of the author’s close friend, Philip Topping, who alternately felt rage and admiration for the “otherness” of the family.

We are meant to draw parallels between J.D. Salinger and A.N. Dyer, though one knows there are few enough points of overlap. & Sons contains some pages from Dyer’s breakout novel, Ampersand , but beyond the fact that both are coming-of-age novels, Dyer’s work did not resemble Salinger’s in many particulars. I sensed a disturbing cruelty in Dyer’s work that I had no sense of in Salinger’s. And if Ampersand suffered from “emotional claustrophobia,” I am afraid I felt the same coming into the home stretch of & Sons.

Gilbert created some marvelous set pieces for this novel, mainly the book party, fore and aft. A movie actor meets one of Dyer’s sons, a recovering addict, and demands he find some cocaine. That son calls his brother, who manages to whip up something special (not coke) and insert himself into the evening’s festivities. It was a clever piece of imagination, though to my mind it was carried on a trifle long—the jokes got crude and cruel--lessening my fascination.

It is entirely normal to feel a little curious about a person who changes the way we view literature, and I admit to some curiosity at times for the life of Salinger. But I also have a certain sympathy for someone who knows himself/herself well enough to wish to limit the celebrity aspect of their lives. I hope he wasn’t as lonely as he seemed, or as lonely as Gilbert’s parallel figure, A.N. Dyer, seemed to be.

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  1. I've got this one from the library, but think I'm not going to get to it soon enough and will have to bring it back!

    1. I hate it when that happens. With all in the news now about Salinger, you might find this a sort of dreamy read--one cannot help but wonder how closely the strange and reclusive author of the novel reflects the truth of Salinger. But I didn't think Gilbert quite pulled it off. I guess if I was curious about Salinger now, I would go to the recent biography, though I have seen reviews that question the depth of perspective of the authors, Shields and Salerno.