Audie Award Finalist, Literary Fiction, 2014
Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching portrait of the bloody price of power, The Son is an utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American West through the lives of the McCulloughs, an ambitious family as resilient and dangerous as the land they claim.
Spring, 1849: Eli McCullough is 13 years old when a marauding band of Comanches takes him captive. Brave and clever, Eli quickly adapts to life among the Comanches, learning their ways and waging war against their enemies, including white men - which complicates his sense of loyalty and understanding of who he is. But when disease, starvation, and overwhelming numbers of armed Americans decimate the tribe, Eli finds himself alone. Neither white nor Indian, civilized nor fully wild, he must carve a place for himself in a world in which he does not fully belong - a journey of adventure, tragedy, hardship, grit, and luck that reverberates in the lives of his progeny.
©2013 Philipp Meyer (P)2013 HarperCollinsPublishers
Thud! Hear that? It's the sound of a book hitting the floor from the top shelf because one of those previous 100 Best Books is hitting the ground to make room for The Son. This is The One that you wait for, hope for, and love every minute you spend reading or listening.
Meyer's new novel has already earned comparisons to the works of Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian), Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove), James Michener (Texas), and Edna Ferber (Giant)--and justly so, as one of the most entertaining novels of the American West ever written, and probably the book to bet on as the biggest blockbuster since The Help. Spanning four generations of Texans--from the first man born into the Republic of Texas in 1836, the grand patriarch Col. Eli McCullough, to the death of his great granddaughter/oil baron, Jeannie McCullough in 2012.
Meyer is an exciting, fresh-voiced author with an historian's flair. He layers this family saga with the colorful mythopoeic history of our unique American West, painting a rugged land, fought for, and inhabited by the white man, the Indian tribes, and the Mexican people. The land itself seems a part of these people, running through their veins like the blood they shed to claim a piece of the frontier. Three family members narrate the story of the Texas McCulloughs:
Eli narrates the frontier years, beginning as a young boy kidnapped during a violent Comanche raid where he witnesses the brutal murder of his mother, sister, and brother. Eli is taken and raised as a Comanche. Instinctually, he fights to survive among what history calls the most savage tribe of Indians. When finally returned to the white society, he has embraced the Comanche so completely that he rejects the life of his childhood, and is seen as an outcast, a *white Comanche*, "either hero or sociopath." In his voice the book is alive and vivid--his young observations of a foreign harsh world so achingly raw and interesting that this time alone would have been a captivating book.
Peter McCullough, the son and resentful heir to the cattle and land fortune amassed by his father Eli, is the conscience of the book--the tender hearted, tragic love-struck narrator, traumatized by a brutal raid against a neighboring Mexican ranching family, initiated by his father and his Vaqueros under the guise of recapturing stolen livestock. Peter is disgusted by his father's legacy, trapped by his role, and stuck in a loveless marriage.
Jeanne Anne is the gutsy great granddaughter of Eli, born in 1926--a tough oil baroness with the hide of an armadillo, that must fight to be accepted in a *man's business*. Meyer gives her a strong and authentic presence, and captures her inner-battles of carrying on the family legacy and raising her own family. The three narrations wind in and out of each other with an unhindered clear progression that moves the saga along effortlessly, until the mighty family trickles to just a stream.
The evolution is bloody and brutal. Meyer relates the unsparing events detached from emotion, offsetting the horrific deeds with the instinct for survival - and the need for prosperity...the path of all histories. The violence is also set against the backdrop of the natural beauty of the American West - the rugged and unforgiving landscape, the choreography in the hunting of buffalo, raising cattle, excavating for oil, It is the process of birth in nature and life and seems organic. With these filters, the violence is authentic to the history and never grabbed me as gratuitous or manipulative. You listen with a strange sense of acceptance. (I wasn't aware that some of our *current slang* ain't so current.)
You hear a rattle and a native drumbeat, joined by a strumming guitar and the chords of a melancholy harmonica--and finally the smoky twang of Will Patton's voice hits your ears. It's all like the thrill of hearing the swelling surround-sound envelop you at a theatre...there's an excitement already to this one, promising an adventure that is delivered with perfection. A powerful, raw story, from an author destined to be known and a book that won't be forgotten. The Son kept me spellbound and left me looking back, yearning for more of this journey across Texas through the years.
*This is already so long, but I thought the interview with Meyer featured on Amazon was worth mentioning. His research process and commitment were very interesting.
I'm just a dumb troglodyte who like reading. Me feel good after I read book.
Phillipp Meyer’s “The Son” is a gritty and intense novel that I fully enjoyed. The Son is always moving forward at a pace that easy to follow and leads to strong character development. The Son is historical fiction, where the reader/listener is exposed to the domestication of Texas by the United States by following three generations of a family from late 1800s to the 1980s. The three family stories switch at the conclusion of each chapter, allowing the reader to directly evaluate the impact of distant events on future behavior.
Word to the wise; The Son this is not for the faint of heart. Myers provides detailed scenes of torture, rape, kidnapping, and murder. However, these explicit elements are the keys that make the novel effective and powerful. If you are looking for a traditional Texas Cowboys versus American Indians stories, look elsewhere. The Son is full of real characters replete with dubious intentions, faulty assumptions, prejudice, and self-serving motivations. The Son is ultimately a tale of personal survival through the destruction of others.
In my opinion, the best parts of The Son occur through the expert description of the culture of the Comanche American Indian. The Comanche way of life, hunting/gathering skills, mating rituals, and family upbringing are exquisitely described. Learning the hunting rituals of the Comanche is reason enough to purchase this audio book. Overall, I would strongly recommend The Son as a highly engaging book for anyone who understands there are no heroes or pure villains when you analyze historical events. The Son is ultimately about perspective.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
First, I need to thank (@Melinda) for recommending this novel. I read American Rust a couple years ago and loved it, but might have missed this nearly perfect novel if I hadn't stumbled onto Melinda's fantastic review and been gently prodded by her into reading it.
There are certain rare novels that brilliantly capture the art, heart, and action of both American fiction and history. 'The Son' is one of those historical novels that can absolutely propel the reader. Its narrative strength, however, is equaled by its artistry and its multi-generational, multi-narrative, epic arc. 'The Son' captures the tension between land and people; the contest between people and people; the struggle between fathers and sons. 'The Son,' is the history of Texas and the West told through three generations of Texans: Eli McCullough (born 1836: the year Texas became a Republic/thesis), his son Peter (born 1870/antithesis) and Peter's granddaughter Jeanne Anne (born 1926/synthesis).
This is a novel that is a pure descendant of Melville, Faulkner, Cather and McCarthy. These authors set the stage that allowed Meyer to carve an epic novel out of the rich soil of the Earth and to shoot another Western myth into the the innumerable stars in the sky.
I'm usually not a fan of multiple narrators for a book, but 'The Son' was well served by four strong narrators (lead by Will Patton).
I really can't recommend this book enough. One of my favorite books/novels/audiobooks of the last several years. Seriously, if you have one credit left in your cache, I would recommend using it RIGHT now to buy rights to this novel. You won't regret it, but your children may--eventually.
This book is about money, murder, and the choice to be free. The female narrator reminded me of Dagny Taggart from Atlas Shrugged. Her choices and sense of self are not reflective of the time in which she lives. Peter is flawed, and the moral compass of the novel. As the seeker and questioner, Peter is the historian of the truth in a time when myths were formed in the West. The Colonel is in a class all by himself. How he attains wealth and his pursuit of power and his story is captivating.
There's always time for reading
The Son provides an entertaining, long-arc view of Texas; it is a family drama that covers 150+ years in a fast paced, well researched way. The family's generations takes a bit of figuring out (wonder if there's a family tree printed in book?), but becomes clearer as book progresses.
This is a great book and I was sad when it was done. I've read most of Cormac McCarthy, including his trilogy. This is almost as well written, with its share of frontier harshness.
A man's got to do what a man's got to do..
There are two different layers that are key to understand and appreciate this book .
First there is the individual story told by, a chapter at a time, three members of the McCulloughs family. They are Eli (the colonel) 1836 - 1936; his son Peter (born 1870); Peter's granddaughter Jeannie (born 1926). The second layer –and the very strong background to the individual narratives- is the big picture of Texas , its mindset , lifestyle , business and society. The book is ambitious and powerful in its language and striking by its atmosphere, but left me uninvolved and a bit disappointed.
The book is chopped up mercilessly into the three life stories of which only the first one (that deals with young Eli growing up as Indian captive and then –back to “civilization”(?)- ranching and building an empire) is very interesting and moving, particularly when describes the life in the Comanche village. The other two main characters are far less engaging: Peter is depressed, self-absorbed and unwilling to stand up to his father, while Jeannie is the kind of person incapable to generate any sort of empathy (readers included).
I guess the message of the book is everyone who has ever "owned" the land stole it from whoever has it last. This is ok, but did it need to take 18 hours –and little fun- to say it ?
I suppose the word "sweeping" was first applied to fiction to cover novels of this kind--ones that tell a single family's history over a period of roughly 170 years. The author tells the story through the consciousness of three characters. The periods covered are of uneven interest, and the narrative alternates between the stories of the three main characters. The advantage of this strategy from the point of view of readers is that we only have to listen to the less interesting stories for 10 - 30 minutes at a time. We know that a more interesting character and more interesting story will be along soon.
The most arresting story is certainly the one covering the earliest years. The character is interesting, and his story is both horrifying and at times lyrical. He has fascinating reactions to the major events of 19th century Texas history, including ones in which he plays a minor--though often shocking--role. The early 20th century history is less interesting, though told from the perspective of a somewhat interesting, guilt-ridden protagonist, one who is not well suited to his tumultuous times or the manly role that he is expected to fill.
I suspect the author got bored telling the story of his last main character, a wealthy woman who is not persuasively characterized and whose life story is sketchily rendered. That's o.k. Most of the characters whose lives intersect with hers are not all that interesting anyway (except the 19th century founder of her family's fortune, i.e., the first main character in the book). Unfortunately, that character dies when she's a child.
Will Patton is a first-rate narrator; the other three are less distinctive. Will Patton has the advantage that he is presenting the most interesting story in the book--that of the first, 19th-century character. My feeling is that his story is compelling enough to see most readers through the entire novel. On the whole this is a satisfying and in some ways memorable read. From what I have read of Comanche folkways and history, the part of the story touching on Indians and Indian-Anglo interactions is accurate and unusually sympathetic to the perspective of Comanches.
I hear voices. But maybe that's because there's always an Audible book in my ear.
This is one of those books that's alive while you're listening and stays with you long after you're done. There's an element of brutality that's difficult to hear. Yet, it makes people who they are and so is a part of the whole thing just as much as the landscape.
This book helps you understand the Texas mindset and how it has impacted politics, business and society. Clearly, some of the big political personalities we've seen come out of Texas in the past century were a product of it. (LBJ, anyone?) The racial tensions that burn today are deeply rooted in the past.
I have a personal bias against books that continue to jump back and forth through characters and time frames. I find it jarring. This book is right on the ragged edge of doing that poorly. The thing that saves it from disaster is Will Patton. I looked forward to hearing him again and so didn't mind when a section ended and he began again.
This is an important book just from the perspective of understanding a part of history that's been overlooked. If you can handle the violence, you'll be rewarded with one of the best listens of the year.
I appreciated the historical context of conflicts among White newcomers, Indians, and Mexicans as well as the background of Texas cattle and oil. I did not like the characters and, without a plot, their stories grew tiresome.
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