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The Son | [Philipp Meyer]

The Son

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.
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Publisher's Summary

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

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  •  
    Elle in the Great NorthWest Beaverton, OR, United States 09-23-13
    Elle in the Great NorthWest Beaverton, OR, United States 09-23-13

    I LOVE books. And dogs & quilting & beading & volunteering.

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    "Excellent Audiobook-Highly Recommended (spoiler)"

    A true saga of a Texas family from early frontier days to the 1990s portrayed by 3 excellent actors who really were their parts-this was a 'listen all day' kinda book. I'm glad I had a rainy sunday to spend lazing on the couch and totally getting into the stories that were related of 3 generations of the McCullough family...

    Kudos especially to Will Patton, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Shepherd for their interpretations of Eli, Jennie and Peter-I was really *there* listening to them...at Cherokee campsites, at the frustrations of a feminist who didn't know she was a feminist dealing with men who didn't take her seriously and at frustrated Peter who loved a woman forbidden by racial restrictions to him.

    These narrators/actors wouldn't have been nearly as successful without the wonderful novel..one of those books MADE for audiobook...by Phillip Meyer. A true saga of a book that puts Edna Ferber's "Giant" to shame..made me see how 'Hollywood"Giant was.

    ***spoiler here***** My only disappointment - and it was truly because I wanted a 'happy-there-gotcha ending' was having the last Garcia child ride hell bent for leather back over the Rio Grande when I so wanted Jennie to accept him as a true son of the family. Well..guess I wanted a 'Hollwyood ' ending there and it didn't happen.****end spoiler***

    Congratulations to all involver for a fantastic novel that kept this listener glued to the iPad.

    8 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    W. Perry Hall 02-01-14 Member Since 2015
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    "My Best Audible; Greek epic of cowboys and Indians"

    I cannot add much more to the great reviews of this novel by listeners, readers and critics. I loved the literary devices used to tell this spectacular story of a Texas family, which is, in many ways, reminiscent of a Greek tragedy.

    This is, by a long shot, the best book I've listened to. The best material by the best narrators. I also read it, but I can't be as bold in my assessment of the book in print.

    I finished this in July and am just now sitting down to write a review. The novel sticks with you like any great piece of art, be it a novel, movie, painting or song.

    I cannot recommend this enough.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte 11-21-13
    Charlotte 11-21-13
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    "A let down"
    What disappointed you about The Son?

    The story felt disjointed. The geography seemed off ( native Texan here) There were long drawn out sections of minimal interest and parts that felt rushed that could have been fleshed out for a more interesting read. Overall it left me feeling bummed and not really caring about the characters.


    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    J. Phelps Greater Boston Area 11-17-13
    J. Phelps Greater Boston Area 11-17-13 Member Since 2009

    A painter, a blogger and one who escapes or relaxes with audio books of all variety.

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    "Difficult"
    What made the experience of listening to The Son the most enjoyable?

    The parts I enjoyed concerned the details of life with the Comanche.


    Would you recommend The Son to your friends? Why or why not?

    I don't think I would give this a strong recommendation because the entire book was difficult for me to follow - the story line jumps back and forth. I found the lack of continuity confusing, often wondering if I'd accidentally skipped some essential part of the story. The ending may have been true to life but was not satisfying.


    Any additional comments?

    I believe the story overall was interesting due to the history and details covered. I really did not care for the fragmented manner in which it was told, however. I wanted to quit several times out of frustration.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 08-15-13
    Laurie Florence, KY, United States 08-15-13 Member Since 2012
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    "Lived up to the hype"

    I read "American Rust", so I already knew that Mr Meyer was a talented author, and this book reinforces my belief. Great sweeping novel, a bit like a Lonesome Dove, and well worth a listen. My only complaint is that Scott Shepherd can sound really whiney after a while!

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jefferson 04-20-14
    Jefferson 04-20-14 Member Since 2010

    I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.

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    ""Each of us walks in our own fire""

    Philipp Meyer's The Son (2013) is an absorbing historical novel about the history of Texas (Indians, Mexicans, whites, nature, cattle, land, oil, blood, etc.) told via three different narrative modes and writing styles from three different point of view characters from three different generations of the McCullough family. (And late in the book a fourth one appears.) As indicated by the epigraph to the novel, a quotation from Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire ("the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works. . . buries empires and cities in a common grave"), Meyer takes no sanguine view of the sanguinary history of Texas and the McCulloughs (and of America, the world, and humanity in general).

    The first voice of the novel belongs to Colonel Eli McCullough, who in 1936 at age one hundred is recording his autobiography for a WPA project. Thinking that his life has been too short, the self-proclaimed "heathen" begins by explaining how Texas became a republic, how his family came to be living in Comanche hunting grounds, and how the Indians captured him at thirteen in 1849. Eli's experiences are horrible, beautiful, and vivid. No idealized noble savages, the Comanche are human beings attuned to the natural world and capable of as much cruelty and kindness as any people. The details Eli relates about making bows and arrows, hunting, raiding, being a captive, using buffalo, making love, giving names, and so on, are mesmerizing and authentic-feeling. And he often evokes a terse beauty: "the water glassing over the stone, skunk tracks in the mud, a heron in a far pool. There was a bobcat ghosting through the willows, thinking no one saw him." Looking back in 1936, Eli feels the thinning of life in the world with the loss of the rich wilderness. "The human mind was open in those days. We felt every disturbance and ripple. Man today lives in a coffin of flesh, hearing and seeing nothing." If a fire came to destroy everyone on earth, he would pour coal oil on himself. As for his family, Eli knows what his son did, but he's not talking about it for the WPA.

    The second point of view character introduced, with third person narration, is that of Eli's great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne McCullough, an immensely wealthy eighty-six year old woman who in 2012 is lying paralyzed on the floor of the deserted family mansion, recalling and reflecting on her tomboy childhood, her admired great-grandfather, her all-consuming work, her big brothers, and her disappointing children. She has come to realize that, "The Colonel had been right; the only one you could depend on is yourself." As a woman trying to succeed in and be accepted by the male world of land and oil, she has not had an easy time. She thinks, "There had never been a place for a person like her." But fracking is for her an act of creation, and she doesn't care (too much) that some people view business empires like hers as evil. She has hired a man to write the history of her family, but for years he's only researched without writing anything; is he the "author" of the book we're reading? And what are the papers she regrets not having burned? As for her family, she knows that at one point her grandfather Peter McCullough (Eli's son) disappeared in disgrace, but tantalizingly prefers not to think about why.

    The third narration is that of "The Son" of the title, Peter McCullough. Writing in his diary at age 45, the guilty pacifist Peter depicts painful events during the "bloody summer" of 1915, a time of horrific violence between white and Mexican Texans. With Peter trying to defuse a potential massacre ("the old family ritual"), he believes that his journal is the only true account of the McCulloughs. Not unlike Jeanne, he has often felt out of place: "I am an exile inside my own house, my own country." Unlike Jeanne and the Colonel, he believes that "This family must not be allowed to continue." Peter is given to morose self-criticism like, "Looking back on my forty-five years I see nothing worthwhile--what I had mistaken for a soul appears more like a black abyss--I have allowed others to shape me as they pleased. To ask the Colonel I am the worst son he has ever had." He says that he remembers everything, so when is he going to tell us what he did to become expunged from his family?

    The haunting "western" music beginning and ending the audiobook is perfect, and the readers, Will Patton, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Shepherd, Clifton Collins Jr., are excellent, fully inhabiting the characters whose narratives they are relating. Will Patton is especially appealing as the laconic, leathery, masculine, and sensitive Eli.

    I did find Jeanne and Peter and their stories less compelling than Eli and his. As Meyer rotates among the three characters, his novel reads like a fusion of Conrad Richter's The Light in the Forest, Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County family novels, and the movie Giant. In addition to telling the complex and gory story of the American west, Meyer's novel is about parents and children, the inexorability of fate, and the futility, greed, and destruction of human endeavor. Eli's last chapter is apocalyptic ("I looked into the book of the earth"). Human history consists of one people displacing another, whether Indians, Spanish, Mexicans, or Anglos, all parties being expert at atrocity. Meyer at times uses that kind of past to evoke a forlorn, numinous mood, as when Eli is digging graves and finds an ancient black cup: "Because it had lain there a thousand years or more it made Toshaway [his Comanche father] and all the others seem very young; as if they were young and there was still hope." People interested in American and western history full of detail, blood, love, and loss should like The Son.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Laura 05-12-14
    Laura 05-12-14 Member Since 2013
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    "Great book ruined by one of the four narrators"
    What did you love best about The Son?

    Detailed research and knowledge of early Texas history


    What did you like best about this story?

    History of Texas from all points of view


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    I really loved three of the four narrators, however, Kate Mulgrew is the worst narrator I've ever heard on any Audible recording. Whoever picked her to voice a Texan has never been south of the Red River. She has no clue what a west Texas accent or any other Texas accent sounds like, and so she simply affects a broadly exaggerated hick voice. Her twang was a caricature and made her parts of the story hard to listen to.


    The other narrators, Will Patton and Scott Shepherd especially, were terrific and more authentic. Why didn't anyone let Kate listen to them before she embarrassed herself with her part?


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Alison GRANADA HILLS, CA, United States 02-06-14
    Alison GRANADA HILLS, CA, United States 02-06-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Rich and Satisfying!"
    If you could sum up The Son in three words, what would they be?

    Complex. Nostalgic. Brutal.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Peter McCullough, because he agonized over his good fortune, verses the right way to live life on earth.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    When Maria Garcia returned to the Ranch, and Peter fell in love with her. His journals were filled with sharp longing; their situation, emotions were raw and haunting.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Were it possible, yes.. but I enjoyed each different chapter, a different character and time frame, converging into the big picture.


    Any additional comments?

    It. Was. Amazing.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kristi Richardson Milwaukie, OR, United States 10-29-13
    Kristi Richardson Milwaukie, OR, United States 10-29-13 Member Since 2014

    An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.

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    "Wonderful epic on the Texas experience."
    If you could sum up The Son in three words, what would they be?

    Cowboys, Indians, Oil.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Eli McCollough because he had the most interesting experiences. He went from being captured by Indians to becoming an Indian than a Ranger and wealthy Oil man. Quite a range of life altering stories that come down to what kind of man he became.


    What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    We had 4 narrators. Will Patton was the best, and even though I love Kate Mulgrew I think she was miscast in this. I would have liked to see Cybil Shephard or some other Texas woman do this part. Kate is too East Coast patrician for it. The other narrators were so so. The Peter McCollough narrator was pretty wimpy and whiny, but I guess that fit his character. The Garcia-McCollough character was fine but not in much of the book.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    The wild west, uncensored.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 09-25-13
    Ryan Somerville, MA, United States 09-25-13 Member Since 2005

    Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.

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    "The violence of history"

    “I could not shake the feeling I’d stepped over some line,” says a protagonist of The Son, “over which I would never return. But maybe I’d crossed it years earlier, or maybe it had never existed. There was nothing you could take that did not belong to some other person.”

    To Philipp Meyer, the story of Texas is a story written in blood and conquest. Spanning a century and a half, the novel follows the lives of three central characters, each from a different generation of a family named McCullough. At the beginning is the dynasty's founder, Eli McCullough, who is kidnapped and brought into manhood by the Comanche Indians, then returns to a civilization he finds too stifling, where he joins the hardbitten Texas Rangers, then, finally, becomes a settled landowner. At our own end of history is his great-granddaughter, Jeanne Ann McCullough, a wealthy and proud oilwoman who, at the end of her life, contemplates all she stood for and the loss of her empire to descendents who will never fill her boots. In between them is Peter McCullough, a cattle baron tormented over his role in the slaughter of a landowning Mexican neighbor and his family by a vigilante mob during the troubles of the early 1900s, an act that nonetheless sows the seeds for his family's greater prominence.

    For anyone who appreciates literary American West sagas, this one's a winner, combining the unsentimentality of Cormac McCarthy with the character-driven storytelling of Larry McMurty. We see a world where the old frontier myths, the ones about self-reliance, taming the land, establishing law and order, and so forth are true enough on the surface, but hide deeper, darker stories. The Comanches here are “godlike” in their mastery of the elements, and casual in their cruelty. From them, the new waves of conquerors of the land (the Spaniards, the Mexicans, the Anglos) take the lesson of force, finding increasingly civilized rationales for it, the scheming lawyers pushing the real frontiersmen further out. For Eli, the rawest character, violence is simply a fact of life. For Peter, more psychologically complex, it’s a source of inner torment, the knowledge that decency brings him little respect from those beneath him in the power structure of a growing empire. Men, he observes, *want* to be ruled. For Jeanne, her now-mythologized family and the prospect of its financial decline become a personal challenge to carve her way into new frontiers -- oil, politics, the media, the world of men -- while trying to evade the aloneness that seems to define the world she has chosen.

    Meyer intersperses his three storylines, revealing both the way the choices of one generation shape the lives of the next, the same themes recurring in different forms in each. Sometimes, these recurrences are an obvious consequence of history, sometimes they’re a product of literary license, but both blur together into a resonant whole. Meyer’s choice of language can sometimes strain credulity, as when Eli describes conversations among Indians or frontiersmen in a way that seems packaged for modern ears, but the prose expertly blends the immediacy of the moment with the insights and oversights of future recollection. We see the subtle shiftings and sortings of truth into different histories, none of them entirely true.

    It’s a bleak but enthralling novel, symbolic of the United States and its ascendency, with a hint in the last chapters of what may come next. Meyers captures the moral ambiguities of a country founded on theories of liberty and pursuit of happiness, but whose true celebration is of power and material success. I also came away feeling like I understood the mentality of Texans better. Eli’s strange story may be the most captivating, especially with Will Patton’s audiobook narration, but all flow together. 4.5 stars.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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