In David Gilbert’s debut novel, The Normals, the drama is kick-started by the arrival of a letter to the protagonist from an agency chasing up outstanding debts. At first blush we could be forgiven for thinking that Gilbert’s latest novel, & Sons, also sources its tension from the world of business. However, like Dickens’s Dombey and Son, the conflicts that steer the novel and capsize its cast are more familial than commercial. The business at its heart is writing, the chipped-out paterfamilias of the title the reclusive novelist A N Dyer. At one juncture he tells his sons that he chose fiction-writing over ‘lawyering and banking and politicking, the normal trades of my people. I needed to be unique.’ Gilbert succeeds not only in rendering his lead unique but also in producing a singularly brilliant novel.
We first encounter Dyer at the funeral of his best friend, Charles Topping. After botching his eulogy he takes stock of his own life and the others he has wrecked and summons his three sons to his New York home. Observing the reunion and gate-crashing the proceedings is our narrator,