Book of the Month: September 2013


& Sons by David Gilbert

At Literary Affairs, we are constantly on the lookout for books that offer insight into the human heart while also engaging our sophisticated readers intellectually. When a novel can do both, while also being superbly written, we are delighted. & Sons, David Gilbert’s latest book, is a great American novel about a great American novel. Or, rather, novelist. Though the novelist in question is the fictional A.N. Dyer, the parallels between him and the perpetually intriguing J.D. Salinger will be obvious to anyone who read Catcher in The Rye as a teenager and became an instant devotee of the iconic scribe of adolescent angst.

In Gilbert’s novel, the aging Dyer, author of a book that made him, at 28, the “youngest person ever to win the Pulitzer” is brought to life through the voice of Philip Topping, the self-consciously unreliable narrator who, as the son of Dyer’s recently deceased best friend and a failed novelist himself, hero-worships the great author even as he examines with microscopic scrutiny the troubled relationships he has with his own three sons. In fact, it is the psychological depth with which father/son relationships are probed in Gilbert’s novel that, as much as its clever use and manipulation of the story of a mythic and mythologized author, makes it great.

That this novel maintains its psychological truth while being formally creative enough to contain novels within novels, and even a splash of zany science fiction (you have to read it to find out where), is a testament to the talent of its author, a novelist who, with this book, is sure to become, like his Salinger-inspired character, a household name in American fiction.


The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A. N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years — before it’s too late.

So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand. But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.

In this daring feat of fiction, David Gilbert establishes himself as one of our most original, entertaining, and insightful authors. & Sons is that rarest of treasures: a startlingly imaginative novel about families and how they define us, and the choices we make when faced with our own mortality.


David Gilbert is the author of The Normals and the short story collection Remote Feed. His stories have appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GQ, and Bomb. He lives in New York City with his wife and three children.

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