The friendship seems to be the catalyst for events. Charles Topping has died, and his funeral is packed with people waiting to see his best friend, the reclusive novelist A. N. Dyer, give the eulogy. Dyer is noted for several excellent books, but Ampersand has become a classic about prep school life.
At the funeral, though, it becomes clear that Andrew Dyer himself isn’t quite all there. During the eulogy, he becomes upset about the whereabouts of his young son Andy and has to be removed from the podium.
The story is told by a narrator who is not at all trustworthy, Charles Toppings’ son Philip. When Andrew Dyer meets him at the funeral and finds he has split from his wife, he kindly invites him to stay.
This suits Philip, who grows more malevolent as we get to know him. He is on hand a few weeks later when the Dyers reunite at their father’s request to discuss something important. He can be there to eavesdrop and look through old papers, but generally he cannot possibly be privy to all the details of the story he tells.
Andrew Dyer has been estranged from his ex-wife and two sons since the family learned about the existence of his third son, Andy. Andy is now seventeen. Andrew has tried to avoid neglecting him, as he did his two other sons, and do a better job of bringing him up. But Andrew knows he is nearing the end and is afraid Andy will be alone. He fears Andy is just as messed up as the other sons, only in a different way. Andrew has formed another preoccupation about Andy that shows how divorced he is from reality.
Andrew’s oldest son Richard is an ex-drug addict who has stabilized his life with great difficulty. He is now a drug counselor and has a wife and two teen children. The other son Jamie is a documentary filmmaker whose films for years have dwelt on the darkest of subjects. Philip Topping has a grudge against both of them for the teasing he received as a child.
The novel is told using letters between Andrew and Charlie, passages from Ampersand, and other artifacts from Andrew’s life, as well as Philip’s testimony. We find Andrew feverishly manufacturing an “original draft” of Ampersand because he burned up the original manuscript in disgust at what he did to his old friend Charles in fiction. Now he needs one to leave with his papers.
I waited to write my review for a few days after I finished the book, and I’m still not sure how much I enjoyed the novel. It is well written and absorbing, and it provides a lot to think about.