Don’t believe anyone who tells you they ran a marathon out of a sense of personal achievement. Or to raise money for a charity. Or in honour of someone else. They’re lying. They ran the marathon so they could tell you they ran the marathon.
I’ve run two marathons.
And I read all of David Gilbert’s & Sons even though every page of the last third (two thirds?) felt like an agonizing shuffle to the end. In running they call it “hitting the wall” – the moment around 30km when your body realizes it is still running and decides continuing is a very bad idea and would rather stop, if fact, would rather we had stopped 28km ago. But your brain is all like ‘no no, we need to be able to tell people we ran a marathon,’ so it supersedes all the pain and lactic acid and in a feat of masochistic revel marches each foot forward. Reading & Sons didn’t physically hurt (beyond the arm strain of hauling about a 5lb monster), but it nevertheless felt like a slog. A slog I’d made my way too far into to abandon, and one that I felt I ought to finish so I could say I had. An absolutely ridiculous idea because no one seems to have read or to care about the book – and if vanity was my motivation I really should have finished (okay, started and finished) Ulysses ages ago. Why did I begin in the first place? I don’t know. I’d ordered it from the library. I’d paid some late fines. I felt literary guilt. (what is literary guilt? I’d like to know).
What do you need to know about it? Plot wise it’s another novel about being a writer in New York and attending parties with writerly folks and sharing the unstated but nevertheless omnipresent anxiety of writerly folks. Actually that’s not a plot. Someone alert David Gilbert! Writing about being a writer in New York is not a plot! Sure, sure. He strings in some business about fathers raising sons, human cloning (don’t get excited – there’s nothing thematically or plot-ly interesting about it) and funerals as a waving of the hands like ‘hey! look! a plot!’ But it’s really just more about being a writer. In New York. Character? I guess it’s supposed to be interesting that we have an unreliable narrator – Philip? Patrick? I forget his name and can’t be bothered to look it up – who inserts himself into the famous writerly Dyer family because he so wants to be a part of the family and to tell us about what goes on with the Dyers. I guess it’s interesting like listening to a runner tell you about their training runs and carb loading is interesting. Which is to say: not at all. Setting: Did I mention this is a book about being a writer in New York? That doesn’t actually spend any time on the New York part except to remind us that we’re in New York? Theme: Uhhh… something about the ethics of writing about people you know, and the desire for immortality, and the inheritance of sons (if the title didn’t give it away you should know this book is entirely uninterested in women. In fact it seems genuinely put out that mothers have to exist at all. I think there’s probably some interesting thematic questions buried in here – just like you probably run past some beautiful scenery – but in the focused effort to just. keep. reading. I didn’t notice.
So yeah. Give me my medal and my banana. Time for a recovery read.