It’s a great thing, reading something and knowing your list of favourite books is probably changing. I wasnt halfway through before I knew this would...moreIt’s a great thing, reading something and knowing your list of favourite books is probably changing. I wasnt halfway through before I knew this would be a favourite, as long as he didnt screw up the end (he doesn't). By the end, I thought that the Great American novel is alive and well - and this novel is an instant classic.
I have to wear two hats, booklover and bookseller, so why don’t I divide this review that way:
First off, this book is so up my alley it’s not even funny. Echoes of Hemingway and Steinbeck, McCarthy, McMurtry’s westerns, even a little Twain in a section or two – but Meyer makes it his own, it doesn’t feel like a straight aping, or a stealing of anyone’s style.
Meyer’s own voice and concerns come through – and those concerns are: the legacy(and tyranny?) of family, violence, the cost and human expense of one culture's rise over another, conquest and displacement, family heritage and free will, bloodlines and bloodshed … it’s a western only on the surface, the way the all the best modern film westerns are – Unforgiven is more than a western (its just disguised as one), same as The Wild Bunch, Seven Men from Now, Once Upon a Time In The West ...
Any of the three storylines could be a novel on their own, but the fact that its three storylines, woven together, and when he chooses to switch perspectives is what makes this a great thing. There’s far too much capital L "Literature" out there (word chosen with precision) that is just boring.
The Son works as story, which to my mind is the writer’s job - more important than inquiry, exploration. Entertain me, take me off this boring streetcar, take me somewhere away from the monotony. This book does that – and as a bonus, it offers all the insights and questions about people and relationships that the literary novel does (most of them without being entertaining). That’s why it wins – so few books can do both. And Meyer still has passages and sentences that make you put the book down for a second in admiration, though he's not showing off at all.
This is a five star, and I'm not sure the last time I assigned that to a novel. Probably The Sisters Brothers, and that may have been too generous. I don’t throw around the 5 star ratings. This is one, no doubt. I will be coming back to it later in life, and that's probably my benchmark. That gets a book on the 'favourites' shelf.
It certainly pulls you along, despite its length. He does alter his pacing near the last third, and at first it's jarring, but its soon apparent - tension is ramping up. It’s hard to read in spots; there's no sugarcoating on the violence, and he doesn't let you imagine it for yourself. I wonder how women will approach it – it’s pretty male, and not just because it’s a western on the surface. Obviously, that’s my bias, but it’s a pretty guy book. But perhaps this isn't fair'; if the three characters share equal 'screen time' in the book, the primary female character is just as well drawn and conceived as the males, perhaps even more so.
Without spoilers, it follows a Texas family from early 1800’s to now, centering on three family members from different generations, two of them male. Begins with one character’s abduction, and eventual adoption, by Comanches after his family is slaughtered (full disclosure, some passages are not for the fainthearted) - and then returning to the white world and becoming a cattle baron. The other characters being his son, and his great granddaughter. He tells his own story in first person, his son’s story is told through his diary, and a third person narration for his great granddaughter – without spoilers, her story starts with her presiding over a rich oil empire, on the verge of death, and the reveal is how she got there.
The writing is fantastic, the plotting, pacing and the structure is pretty much perfect, the characters are rich and well defined – but again: most of all, it’s just a pleasure to read. You know you have a thing when you are considering calling in sick to stay home with your book. Without looking too hard at the past few novels I’ve read, I can say that at least the last three didn’t compel me to pick them up, and the experience of reading this novel was the complete opposite.
I am curious right now (two months away from publication) how much it will break out. I would bet my hat it will get a National nomination, but I am so close to this kind of thing that I wonder about my judgment. The British (I believe) have a saying along the lines of “If you like this kind of thing, then you’ll like this.” I do very much like this kind of thing – the literary western part, anyway (I’m not generally drawn to sweeping, majestic, multi-family epics).
It deserves to sell by the boatload, and every American nomination that its eligible for. If you're a fan of muscular, gritty fiction, you should get on this right away. If you loved McCarthy's westerns, Lonesome Dove, East of Eden, Cold Mountain, Ron Rash's Serena, or Tom Franklin's Smonk, you need to put down whatever you're reading and pick this up. (less)