Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review: And Sons: A Novel

The great part of getting advanced copies of possible book club selections, is that you get to read literature for free that you might not have read otherwise.  The bad part? That it can sometimes be like that literature class where the professor goes nuts over a piece of literature for reasons you can't comprehend because it just isn't that great.

So it is with And Sons: A Novel by David Gilbert.  I wanted it to live up to the pre-publication hype, but absolutely did not.  So I wrote my very honest reviews for Amazon and Goodreads below.   Enjoy.


Like many contemporary novelists, & Sons is an attempt to capture many of the feelings we want out of literature. While I had not read any of his other works, it is apparent that author David Gilbert is familiar with larger expectations for complex works by interweaving multiple viewpoints, dealing with darker themes in familial relationships, and throwing in the unexpected. In terms of style and tone, Gilbert does come across as different, unique and fresh.

However, Gilbert’s novel has a few detractors that make it have less of a broad appeal. For the most part it is a study of relationships between reclusive, privileged, New Yorker fathers and sons. While I understand the romance with the New York City life, and reflections of a Woody Allen view of the city, I still am not sure how relatable these characters are on the whole. Adding to the problem, is the bouncing weave of storylines and viewpoints that at times is hard to follow, especially when the father is named Andrew, and the son is called Andy. To confuse matters more, Gilbert drops in copies of handwritten letters that are often hard to read but essential in terms of characters reacting to these letters, and sections of the fictional author A.N. Dyer’s novels. 

As well, the novel comes across to the reader as trying too hard. In the course of building this reclusive author’s character, Dyer’s biggest classical piece of literature is called Ampersand and is constantly compared to Catcher in the Rye. Instead of feeling like a natural comparison, the number of times this is mentioned make it instead feel like that one friend who has gotten to meet a few B-list celebrities, and constantly namedrops at the most casual of dinner parties. Add to this a very preposterous plot twist that is played off as reality, and it feels like the whole novel unravels a bit. While the mildly surprising revelation near the end and the very surprising ending work much better, the middle plot twist feels like the biggest negative and turn that part of the novel into that movie that is hilarious when it wasn’t trying to be funny at all.

While the tone and style are interesting, I found the whole novel didn’t live up to the hype. Probably a semi-interesting read for some, but definitely not what I would consider to be an enduring classic.

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