KYD Advent Calendar

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Books

WASPiration: David Gilbert’s & Sons

by Carody Culver , March 18, 2014Leave a comment

& Sons

 

As someone who’s always secretly aspired to being a WASP (before you mercilessly judge me for this, I should clarify that my desire has less to do with attaining elevated social and financial status than with being able to dress like a character in The Great Gatsby), any novel set in the preppy heartland of America’s East Coast tends to get my pulse racing.

So when David Gilbert’s & Sons – which takes us into the wealthy world of Manhattan’s Upper East Side – hit shelves recently, I pounced on it with the fervour of a hungry equestrian falling upon a country club buffet (only probably with less well-bred restraint).

Gilbert’s tragicomic saga follows one week in the lives of three sons from a privileged New York family. It exposes the varying degrees of disrepair evident in their relations with their father, renowned novelist AN Dyer, whose most famous book, Ampersand, is a Catcher in the Rye-style tale of anguished adolescence that’s sold millions. & Sons is not simply a novel about fathers and sons, but about the complexity of intergenerational ties.

The novel opens at the funeral of Dyer’s oldest and dearest friend, Charlie Topping. Dyer – now old and infirm and with a spirit that ‘no longer seemed to reach his extremities but pooled around his torso and only fed the essentials’ – becomes suddenly gripped by the need to atone for past wrongs and reunite his family.

Richard, Dyer’s eldest son, is a drug counsellor and aspiring screenwriter in LA; Jamie, the middle child, makes documentaries about human suffering; and Andy, Dyer’s namesake, is the 17-year-old result of a fling that destroyed the writer’s marriage and effectively estranged him from Richard and Jamie. What ensues is a reunion that brings together Dyer’s emotionally battle-scarred children and ex-wife and culminates in the disastrous and the unexpected.

Gilbert is a gifted wordsmith, and his beautiful and evocative prose (a film executive has impatient hands that move ‘as if he constructed balloon animals in his spare time’; old friends ‘carry with them a braided constant, part and whole, all the days in the calendar contained in a glance’) draws us deeply into the lives of an outwardly glamorous but inwardly dysfunctional elite. The book sounds (and reads) very much like a Great American Novel in the tradition of Cheever, Updike or Franzen; but there’s more here than meets the eye.

Interestingly, it’s Charlie Topping’s son, Philip, a teacher who’s just lost his job and his marriage, who narrates the story – but he seems able to inhabit the consciousness of all the other characters and describe scenes at which he obviously isn’t present. He’s a deliberately unreliable narrator, and there’s a voyeuristic aspect to his telling that could suggest the reader’s desire to both be part of the Dyers’ world and see it exposed in all its frail and messy humanity. But how far can we trust Philip?

Perhaps a more pertinent question is how far we can trust Gilbert, who ends up subverting our expectations of realist fiction with an ambiguous but compelling sleight of narrative hand; to say much more about this would be to give too much away. Dyer seems intent on rewriting his own past, and the supposed solution to the dual burdens of his creativity and his mortality is both intriguing and controversial. Questions of truth, identity and authorship are all at play here, but Gilbert is subtle enough – even ambiguous enough – to allow readers a little interpretive leeway.

You could easily level the accusation that & Sons, with its clever set-pieces, dazzling prose and postmodern plotting, is – like a well put together but vacuous WASP – a case of style over substance. But, like Gatsby and his shiny parties in Fitzgerald’s famous novel, a complex and interesting heart beats beneath this outward beauty.

Carody Culver is a Brisbane-based freelance writer, editor and part-time bookseller. 

ACO logo




9508984918_5d8a187fc1_z

Marika Sosnowski

Living Side by Side: Multiculturalism at Home and Abroad

It all seems quite idyllic – people of varying nationalities, religions and cultures coexisting peacefully. It could be a blueprint for the perfect multicultural society. However, there’s something beneath the surface that is troubling to the western notion of modern liberalism. Read more »

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

isabelle_cover_grande

Dark Places and Safe Spaces: S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars

S.A. Jones’ Isabelle of the Moon and Stars is a powerful and affecting depiction of a young woman struggling with mental illness and emotional turmoil. A book like Isabelle might well be described as the underdog of Australian publishing: a character-focused literary novel published by a small press … Read more »

w527705

Carody Culver

Taking Christmas off the shelf

Ah, Christmas – for some, a time of gift-giving, awkward family gatherings and over-zealous consumption of rum balls; for booksellers, a time to weep silent tears of stress and experience the irrational but persistent fear of being buried alive beneath boxes of the latest Stephen Fry memoir. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

Kim_cover_web_

Julia Tulloh

Kim Kardashian, butts, and the internet

We’re used to seeing her butt, and we’re also used to Kim doing crazy publicity stunts. Her entire life is a publicity stunt in itself, both the means and end of a crazy, money-making, power-acquiring trajectory. Her very fame is built on the playful and shameless self-exposure captured in the Paper shoot. Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

Exodus-Gods-and-Kings-Poster-Bale-and-Edgerton-691x1024

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Problems with God: Exodus: Gods & Kings

This is the thing about retellings of old and beloved foundation stories: it’s impossible to come to them fresh, without trying to compare and contrast with previous versions for veracity and style. It’s usually the modern incarnation that comes up short. Read more »

Screen-Shot-2014-10-01-at-11.22.21-AM

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Can too many parts destroy an adaptation? The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1

It’s a relief to feel the weight of fidelity lift off an adaptation film, as Mockingjay: Part 1 becomes a meta-exploration of fame, franchise and future. Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

3991099211_8397c745fe_b

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Taking up space: The legitimisation of creepshotting

There is a relationship between catcalling and creepshotting. Both are practices that involve the reduction of strangers to objects to be gawked at and commented on, which is what makes the ‘Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train’ Tumblr blog interesting and complex. Read more »

IMG_0086

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Pictures of pictures: Monument Valley and the rise of the in-game photographer

Presenting screencapturing a game as a form of camera-free ‘photography’ gives rise to a conceptual issue. If the ‘photographer’ is moving through, and capturing, a world created entirely by others, then who exactly should take the credit for any images created? Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

2447663467_2d543e6c87_o

Danielle Binks

Young Adult literature: genre is not readership

YA is not a genre – it is a readership. It may seem like pedantic nitpicking to focus on this distinction, but so pervasive is the mistake, amongst even established literary channels, that explaining the difference has become increasingly important and indeed necessary. Read more »

00page

Danielle Binks

Disability or superpower? Deaf identity in YA

‘We actually need more stories about deaf and hard of hearing characters and for their experiences to be shared in stories. Often, young readers believe they are ‘alone’ in their deafness and do not realise that there are many others like them.’ Read more »

tumblr_naod7i6Sj61tk49ymo1_1280

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part Two): Film, Music, YA Literature, Pop Culture

In the second of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in film, music, young adult literature, and pop culture. Read more »

mariah-carey-all-i-want-for-christmas

Julia Tulloh

A SuperFestive Christmas playlist

I know what you’re thinking: lists like this became redundant in 1992, when Jon Bon Jovi rubbed shoulders with Cindy Crawford beneath a Christmas tree for the first and last time. Does the ideal of Christmas music get any better? Perhaps not, but many have tried. Here are a few other Christmassy pop goodies. Read more »

drake-cover-650

Justin Wolfers

Drake’s climate change epiphany

Or: ‘Heat of the Moment’ as an epiphany in which Drake realises the urgency and importance of acting on climate change Read more »

057212e0462005b9_Thumb

Kill Your Darlings

Best of 2014 (Part One): TV, Books, Technology

In the first of a two-part series, our brilliant Killings contributors highlight their top cultural moments of 2014 – in television, books and technology. Read more »

??????????????????????

Stephanie Van Schilt

Lady Bosses on the Box

An increasing number of female-driven comedies, dramas or melodramas are popping up on our screens. Through the filters of fiction, the worlds these heroines inhabit directly reflect our own. This is the age of the lady boss. Read more »

105768385_5672eae965_z

Stephanie Van Schilt

Bananas without pyjamas? Budgets cuts and the next generation of ABC kids

From my humble beginnings watching kids’ programming, I learnt that ‘Your ABC’ was indeed, our ABC. The protests and public outcry which followed this week’s announcement of cuts to the ABC demonstrate its crucial role in fostering a sense of community for Australians. Read more »