THE SON by Philipp Meyer

Book Quote:

“Nearly pointed out that we are the wetbacks, having swum our horses across the Nueces a century after the Garcias first settled here. But of course I said nothing. He clapped me on the back— his butcher’s hands— and went in to eat more free beef.

People continued to arrive at the house, bringing cakes, roasts, and regrets that they had not been able to reach us in time to help— how brave we were to assault the Mexicans with such a small force.  By that they mean seventy-three against ten. Fifteen if you count the women. Nineteen if you count the children.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shultman  (DEC 23, 2013)

There is nothing small about the state of Texas nor is there anything small about this epic masterpiece of a novel, which will surely catapult Philipp Meyer into the ranks of the finest American novelists.

What he has accomplished is sheer magic: he has turned the American dream on its ear and revealed it for what it really is: “soil to sand, fertile to barren, fruit to thorns.” The most astounding thing is, you don’t know how good it really is until you close the last page and step back and absorb what you have just experienced.

There are three key characters in this book: Colonel Eli McCullough, kidnapped by the Comanche tribe at an early age and forced to navigate the shaky ground between his life as a white settler and his life as a respected adoptee-turned-Comanche warrior…his son, Peter, the moral compass of the story who resorts to self-hatred after the massacre of his Mexican neighbors…and Peter’s granddaughter Jeanne, a savvy oil woman who has profited mightily from the land.

In ways, the three represent a wholeness of the Texas story: the id, the ego, and the superego of history. Philipp Meyer weaves back and forth among their stories and each one is compelling in its own way. Eli’s is sheer adrenalin, a boy-man who is only slightly bothered by the constraints of society or conscience. Jeanne is a girl-woman with a head for the family business in a time and place where women are considered secondary to men.

And Peter, ah, Peter. He is “The Son,” the diarist who sees the moral shadings, who realizes that not all life is a matter of economics, that the strong should not be encouraged while the weak perish, and that we do have choices in our actions. He notes “that the entire history of humanity is marked by a single inexorable movement – from animal instinct toward rational thought, from inbred behavior toward learned behavior and acquired knowledge.” He is the heart and soul of Texas.

This American epic focuses on many themes. One is generational change and the progression from an agrarian and cattle-based economy to an oil-based economy. Take these lines:

“Of course there is no doubt that the Indian lives closer to the earth and the natural gods…Unfortunately, there is no more room or that kind of living, Eli. You and my ancestors departed from it the moment they buried a seed in the ground and ceased to wander like other creatures.”

Another is man’s inhumanity to man: the brutal land grab and the dehumanization of those who are considered “not belonging” by every single segment: the Comanches, the Mexicans, and above all, the whites who fight tooth and nail to take more of what’s theirs.

And lastly, and most importantly, it is about the blood that runs through human history with Texas as a microcosm. Mr. Meyer writes, “The land was thirsty. Something primitive still in it, the land and people both; the only place like it she’d ever seen was Africa: savannah, perpetual heat and sun, thorns and blinding heat. A place without mercy. The birthplace of humanity.”  This book should be widely-read and talked-about.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 718 readers
PUBLISHER: Ecco (May 28, 2013)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shultman
EXTRAS: Interview and Excerpt
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December 23, 2013 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2013 Favorites, Facing History, Texas, US Frontier West, Wild West

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