Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Book #16: The Son by Philipp Meyer

I really like westerns. Cowboys and Indians and an unreasonable love of the land make for a great book, in my opinion. The Son fit right into that mold, and it did not disappoint.

The novel details the lives of three generations of the McCullough family. Eli, also known as the Colonel, was born in 1836 and was part of that raw, restless generation that settled Texas, for all practical purposes stealing it from the Indians and the Mexicans in the process. His son Peter is the second character detailed in the novel, but Peter seems to be made of weaker stuff than his father, and the Colonel's obsession with land and wealth and success seem to have skipped Peter and been delivered in double dose to his son, Charles. The final main character is Jeanne, Charles's daughter, a woman who grew up under the wing of her great-grandfather and struggled her entire life to find the balance between loving people and loving Texas with its land, oil, and cattle.

I enjoyed reading of Jeanne's struggle with success. It's clear that for a woman in her day the definitions of success for a man and for a woman were drastically different. She is a cattle woman and an oil baron, but still she feels that she isn't good enough. Her narrative begins with her as an old woman in obvious distress, and we don't discover the cause of that distress until the very end of the novel. Honestly, it is much bigger than the predicament she is in at that moment.

Peter is awkward and uncomfortable, both courageous and cowardly. His storyline is the primary source of angst in the novel. He is burdened with being the child of a wildly popular, bigger-than-life father.

The Colonel's stories were my favorite, as he lived the classic cowboy and Indian life. It isn't romanticized here, but described as something painful, beautiful, unavoidable, yet inherently wrong. I don't want to give away too much, but even as a child Eli had a lust for the frontier.

The chapters alternate with the stories of each character, much like Meyer's novel American Rust. While it's long (561 pages), I was never bored. I am impressed that a novel of this length never dragged on.

(Sidebar: The Colonel often references "Old Scratch" which reminded me of The Devil and Tom Walker.)

The Son is a novel about 150 years of Texas -- the death and the life that brought the state from a wild untamed land to the Texas we know today. The characters are well-developed and real. It's was pretty darn amazing, and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes that sort of thing.

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