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The Son by Philipp Meyer

May 27, 2014


In 1849, thirteen-year-old Eli McCullough’s frontier homestead is attacked by a band of Comanche. They kill his mother and sister and take him captive. He lives as one of the Comanche until famine and war cause their numbers to dwindle and Eli decides to return to American society. The Son tells the story of the McCullough clan in three interwoven parts: Eli and the exploits that will make him a legend in the family; Eli’s son, Peter, a morally conflicted man, too soft and intellectual for the violent culture in which he lives; and Jeannie, Peter’s granddaughter and matriarch of the McCullough oil fortune.

As a drama, the book works well, though Eli’s part is by far the most engaging. But it also works as a history of Texas and, because of the region’s significance, as a history of America’s evolution from wild frontier to a land of livestock to one of oil wealth. Each character is in their own way an outcast, which gives them an interesting vantage point on their particular history. And each deals with very different central conflicts given the different time periods in which they live.

Meyer’s The Son has been compared to both Cormac McCarthy’s and Larry McMurtry’s westerns. It felt more like the latter to me, tilting a little more to the melodramatic. But it is well-rendered and, although a bit uneven, always interesting.

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