Thursday, 31 December 2020

& Sons

Finished December 31 
& Sons by David Gilbert


This lyrical novel is told from the viewpoint of a middle-aged man, and yet he often has omniscience into the thoughts and behaviours of others. Philip Topping is at his father Charles' funeral as the book begins, but that isn't the only upheaval in his life. He is recently separated from his wife after she discovered his affair with a young woman, and he has also lost his job as a teacher in a private school due to the scandal. He approaches and talks to his father's oldest friend, Andrew Dyer, a famous novelist, who offers his spare room to Philip for the transition. 
Andrew himself had a marriage breakup due to a similar transgression, only his act resulted in a child. Young Andy is now seventeen and Andrew has been raising him since his mother died when he was a baby. Andrew's former wife Isabel drew the line at raising the child, with her own two sons, Richard and Jamie both grown and living their own lives. 
Richard lives in California and is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, as his his wife Candy. They have two children, Emmett, sixteen and Chloe, twelve. They are coming to New York shortly to visit, the first for the kids. Jamie is a documentary filmmaker, a man who travels the world, has an efficiency apartment he spends little time, and sometimes teaches at New School. He is wrapping up a long-term film that he has done as a special request for his high school girlfriend as she is dying from cancer. 
In common for all these men from Charles and Andrew, to Philip, Richard, and Jamie, and now Andy is the private school Exeter which they all attended. A fictionalized version of this school is at the heart of Andrew's most successful novel Ampersand as well. 
As we see these characters interact, we see the imbalance between the two families, and the competitive spirit of teenage males as they learn to navigate the world. The Dyer family is definitely the alpha in the friendships in both generations, and they aren't always kind about it. While we don't see Charles himself, there are letters between him and Andrew that show aspects of their friendship at some crucial moments in their lives. 
The use of the omniscient viewpoint is interesting as Philip is an unreliable narrator and yet has this insight into the minds, experiences, and actions of these other people. It took me a little while to get into the book, but once I did it really flowed for me. The characters are complex, showing both likeable and unlikable qualities, and they began to grow on me as the book went on. This book is more about the characters and the relationships than the plot and yet the plot is key to those relationships. 
A very enjoyable read.

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