Reclusive novelist A.N. Dyer, author of the American classic Ampersand, makes his first public appearance in years at the funeral of his lifelong friend Charles Topping. Overcome by the task of eulogizing Topping and recognizing his own mortality, Dyer seeks out the presence of his three sons, all living vastly different lives. In a whirlwind week, the family works to untangle threads from the past while keeping a hold on the present.
While reading And Sons, I was constantly struck by the amount of effort Gilbert put into imagining A.N. Dyer's career. Rather than simply creating a book synopsis and writing a quote or two, Gilbert fills pages of And Sons with pages from Ampersand and brings his characters to life through their relationship with the novel. Yet, there is a world of depth beyond the brilliant frame of A.N. Dyer's books. Gilbert peeks into each of his character's lives through snapshots, slowly unwrapping secrets that have been hidden for years. Though the first person narration from Topping's son Philip feels like a slight misstep at first, allowing the speaker in each of the storylines to blur, its purpose grows clear as the novel progresses. Philip’s voice becomes necessary as the lives of the sons weave closer and eventually collide in a startling conclusion.
But Perhaps Gilbert’s greatest achievement is writing a literary novel centered almost wholly on male characters without focusing on their romantic or sexual relationships. While teenage crushes, marriages and affairs are mentioned, they are part of the plot not the theme. Instead, And Sons delves into the delicate bonds between friends, fathers and sons; beautifully tracing how the past can shape the future in the most unforeseen ways.