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
So hooked by audio that I have to read books aloud. Love reading the reviews. *If my reviews help, please let me know.
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.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
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.
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 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 have my mind... & a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge." -T.L.
I read this book after reading a review from a person who I've trusted on a number of books & she has not left me down with any novels yet... This book is quite the historical fiction that is able to contain complex metaphors, multiple-generational-long end life crisis's a human might go thru. In this case its thru the eyes of a family that spans over a hundred years but starts with one, larger than life character... Eli McCullough, a man who was taken when he was a boy by one of the most ruthless group of Indians in history, the Comanches.
Eli lives thru this ordeal to become an accepted part of the tribe & I found myself wanting to hear more & more, by the end I could have listened to the whole book if it was just about Eli & his POV on his life with a smaller concentration of the other characters in the book although they were not uninteresting, the combination of Will Patton's narration, life trials he went thru in the hands of 'savages' & then the life trials he went thru once returning to 'civilized society,' & of course the authors style of writing containing the vivid descriptions, POV analysis from a man with this unique background, metaphoric & real life issues he conquers in his own way which then reach way beyond his mere life but into the lives of the other character POV's... Eli's timid, yet 'educated & civilized' son Peter who has trouble bridging the gap between him & his father or even understanding the gap that separates them & great-grand daughter Jeannie who doesn't have this father-son problem but a much larger gender bias in a time where the oil barrons of Texas were making they're marks in histrory.
The chapters go by & each one is a POV of one of the characters plus a surprise one near the end & u see what it meant to have a father or any number of other family members as the family name grows to represent the rugged, wild state of Texas & perhaps in a real cheesy analogy why no one 'messes with Texas' lol. I enjoyed this book because listening to the internal dialogue of a completely dominate alpha male, a 'boy' who is essentially the polar opposite of his father but is too 'weak willed' to show anyone around him he is the rightful heir or should be taken seriously, & finally a woman in a man's business that finds a way to continue & grow the family legacy bigger than ever until the climactic end where the entries of an old man, love-sick son, & slowly growing 'senile' matriarch show the inner workings of their minds to readers. This climatic end should not be revealed because everything leading up to it foreshadows much of what happens but it is up to the reader to be able to try & imagine what this life that at least I've only ever heard about, & in this case read about. With the narration & writing I would most def. put this piece up there with parts of the 'Lonesome Dove Series' & other Western novels.
Put on ur war paint & take a small look into the eye's of death from 3 different POV stemming from the same biological start because even Eli ends up giving a POV that seems like an entirely diff. person before & after his Native American experiences... Great book, just wish there was more 'Patton' & 'Eli' because it was at the least one of the more intriguing perspectives an American can try to imagine.
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.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
“There were people who ate the earth and those that stood around and watched them do it.”
So said Lillian Hellman in “The Little Foxes”, and the quote is apt for the McCullough dynasty in “The Son”. For all of its ambition to present a sweeping epic of Texas history through the eyes of three generational representatives, these three characters came across as soulless and selfish, with no clear motivations for their lives, simply grasping for what they could acquire no matter the cost or who had to pay it – generally the Mexicans and other family members.
Eli’s story is admittedly the most colorful, with his abduction by the Comanches, his life with them, and afterwards in the Texas Rangers and the Confederate Army. But none of it ever felt as adventurous as expected. Much of it was just gruesome and murderous, but quite emotionless, even for the victims. The ease with which he changed allegiances, killing without conscience the enemy of the moment, spoke of a man with no soul or direction. Love was just as empty, expressed almost exclusively in sophomoric sexual terms (and too often with barnyard vocabulary).
Peter (Eli’s son) and Jeannie (Eli’s great granddaughter) each eventually inherit to various degrees the empire, but exist only through the prism of Eli’s life – Peter hating him and Jeannie mythologizing him. Neither ever feel adequate with themselves, so they are weak and inadequate characters, and I found them essentially sterile. Lacking heartfelt emotions, I felt nothing for them. All background characters were just that: background and generally one-dimensional, too often stereotyped.
Narration – 2/3’s good. Patton and Shepherd did well with Eli and Peter. Kate Mulgrew to my ears was grating and rough, trying too hard to portray a tough Texas gal, which just came across as a whiskey roughened broad, often indistinguishable from the male voices.
I know this is a dissenting vote – most reviewers loved the book. I felt it was cynical and spoke to the futility of life spent only on building dynasties and not relationships. I'll give it three stars for ambition and many of the well written passages, but I found little inspiring or uplifting to recommend it.
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.
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
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.
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