I am a sucker for a great American novel, in particular ones set in college and this kind of fits into both those categories but with a twist. This was originally described to me as Wonderboys meets The Art of Fielding which isn’t necessarily true. Instead imagine a novel like Wonderboys or The Art of Fielding and then imagine what happens to the author and his family forty years later.
A.N. Dyer is the author of Ampersand, a seminal work of American literature set in a college in the 1950s. It was the defining book of his career and is still held in reverence forty years later. A.N. Dyer, Andrew, is now an old man. He has three sons, two with his wife and one from an affair that ended his marriage. Following the death of his oldest and closest friend Andrew, sensing his own imminent mortality, tries to repair his damaged relationship with his sons.
Gilbert treads a fine line throughout the book between satire and metafiction dipping in and out of each almost perfectly. He deftly blurs the lines between fact and fiction in his fictitious world. The way his dissects the publishing industry is wickedly brilliant but the core of the novel is the relationship between fathers and sons and the battles fought over legacy and individualism. The story is narrated by Philipp Topping, the son of Andrew’s recently deceased best friend, who I wouldn’t go as far to say is an unreliable narrator but he definitely has his own biases. The story does take a slightly odd turn but Gilbert keeps everything on the road.
A clever story of fathers and sons and a tragic exploration of the great American novel and it’s aftermath.