As I was reading &Sons by David Gilbert I realized that everyone is talking about it. It is clearly touted to be one of the big books going into the fall literary season. But does that mean it is enjoyable?
& Sons appears to be loosely based on a J.D. Salinger type character – the great, but elusive writer A.N. Dyer. It starts at the funeral of Dyer’s best and life long friend and initially appears to be a bit of a meditation on death. As the story proceeds we are introduced to Dyer’s three sons through an unreliable narrator who longs to be part of the Dyer family. The novel unfolds as a series of digressions, excerpts of Dyer’s novels and letters between Dyer and his best friend.
Overall much is attempted in &Sons, but not all of it is successful. Above all the writing is brilliant. Gilbert can weave together the most wonderful sentences. If it weren’t for his stunning prose I would have put &Sons down without finishing it, something I rarely do. But for all that great writing, I found the book a struggle. I was bored for the first 150 pages and by the end I found myself skimming, looking ahead for the next great sentence or phrase without really taking in much else.
Who would like this book? I rarely categorized books by gender; I think that is somewhat derivative, but in this case I might argue that &Sons would be more greatly appreciated by men. All the characters of any significance are men and women only figure into the narrative as caregivers or objects of attraction. This novel should also be read for those who like to be in the know about hot literary fiction. That does not mean you will enjoy it, only that I think it will be talked about among literary types. If you want to read a novel about a crotchety old writer, I would suggest going for Barney’s Version instead of this one. &Sons has all the bitterness but non of the wit of Richler’s great work.