Philipp Meyer, the acclaimed author of American Rust , returns with The Son an epic of the American West and a multigenerational saga of power, blood, land, and oil that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family, from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the to the oil booms of the 20th century.Read more...
Philipp Meyer, the acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son an epic of the American West and a multigenerational saga of power, blood, land, and oil that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family, from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the to the oil booms of the 20th century.
Harrowing, panoramic, and deeply evocative, The Son is a fully realized masterwork in the greatest tradition of the American canon an unforgettable novel that combines the narrative prowess of Larry McMurtry with the knife-edge sharpness of Cormac McCarthy."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-18
- Reviewer: Staff
In chronicling the settlement and scourge of the American West, from the Comanche raids of the mid-19th century into the present era, Meyer never falters. The sweeping history of the McCullough dynasty unfolds across generations and through alternating remembrances of three masterfully drawn characters: Eli, the first white male born in a newly founded Texas, captured and raised by Comanche Indians; Eli’s self-sacrificing son, Peter, who shuns everything his power-hungry father represents; and Jeannie, Eli’s fiercely independent great-great-granddaughter, who inherits the family fortune. Chapters detailing Peter’s affair with a Mexican neighbor and his moral struggle with his ancestors’ bloody legacy are keenly balanced alongside those involving Jeannie’s firm yet impassive rule over the modern McCullough estate. But it’s the engrossing, sometimes grotesque descriptions of Eli’s early tribal years—scalpings, mating rituals, and a fascinating few pages about the use of buffalo body parts that recalls Moby Dick—that are the stuff of Great American Literature. Like all destined classics, Meyer’s second novel (after American Rust) speaks volumes about humanity—our insatiable greed, our inherent frailty, the endless cycle of conquer or be conquered. So, too, his characters’ successes and failures serve as a constant reminder: “There is nothing we will not have mastered, except, of course, ourselves.” Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (June)
Philipp Meyer's brilliant and raw epic of the American West
A novel about terse men with guns will inevitably summon comparisons to Hemingway. One set in the South will likewise invoke Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. The Son by Philipp Meyer has its Hemingway-esque motifs; scenes of scalpings and general rapine do recall McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Meanwhile, Meyer’s decision to write using different voices riffs on Faulkner’s stylistic experiments.
At times Meyer does seem to be aping these predecessors, but his latest book is no mere homage. This talented young writer—one of the New Yorker’s “20 under 40”—has his own voice, and it owes as much perhaps to Virginia Woolf as to the male American canon.
The Son concerns several generations of Texans: Eli McCullough, his son Peter and Peter’s granddaughter Jeanne Anne. Eli’s tale, told in straight narrative, is set before and during the Civil War. Peter’s, told in diary form, centers on the Great War. J.A.’s, told in interior monologue, spans the latter 20th century.
The most compelling of these characters is Eli, who watches Comanches murder his family and then is taken captive by them. Years pass, and he becomes accustomed to their independent ways, so that even after his so-called liberation, Eli pines for his adoptive people.
Peter’s main struggle is with the Mexicans who once owned the Lone Star State. He witnesses Mexicans being massacred, and when one survivor calls him to account, he must choose between his love for her and his duty to a family who scorns the “wetbacks.”
For J.A., the problem is how to carry on the family name in a completely masculinized culture (women, Eli had said, “had no common sense”). She also struggles with her Texan pride, given that her nation, rather than being grateful for the state’s once indispensable oil production (“life as they knew it did not exist without Texas”), treats her kind with chilly Yankee superiority. On top of that, J.A. is a McCullough, and her ancestors’ enemies remember.
Meyer writes with grace, if not economy, and always with great sympathy, only occasionally careening into the saccharine. His knowledge of Comanche folkways is admirable, and, unlike Hemingway, he can write convincing women.
The novel’s epigraph is from Gibbon, and so its overarching theme is ephemerality—the decline of families shadowed by the decline of empires—a theme evident as well in the title of Meyer’s previous work, American Rust. The Son is a shining second step in a promising career.
Read a Q&A with Philipp Meyer for The Son.