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The Son

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The acclaimed author of American Rust, returns with The Son: an epic, multigenerational saga of power, blood, and land that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the border raids of the early 1900s to the oil booms of the 20th century.

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. The first male child born in the newly established Republic of Texas, Eli McCullough is thirteen years old when a marauding band of Comanche storm his homestead and brutally murder his mother and sister, taking him captive. Brave and clever, Eli quickly adapts to Comanche life, learning their ways and language, answering to a new name, carving a place as the chief's adopted son, and waging war against their enemies, including white men-complicating 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 or 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.

Intertwined with Eli's story are those of his son, Peter, a man who bears the emotional cost of his father's drive for power, and JA, Eli's great-granddaughter, a woman who must fight hardened rivals to succeed in a man's world.

Phillipp Meyer deftly explores how Eli's ruthlessness and steely pragmatism transform subsequent generations of McCulloughs. Love, honor, children are sacrificed in the name of ambition, as the family becomes one of the richest powers in Texas, a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege. Yet, like all empires, the McCoulloughs must eventually face the consequences of their choices.

Harrowing, panoramic, and vividly drawn, The Son is a masterful achievement from a sublime young talent.

561 pages, Hardcover

First published May 28, 2013

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About the author

Philipp Meyer

14 books1,010 followers
Philipp Meyer's novel, American Rust, was an Economist Book of the Year, a Washington Post Top Ten Book of 2009, a New York Times Notable Book, A Kansas City Star Top 100 Book of 2009, and an Amazon Top 100 Book of 2009.

Philipp Meyer grew up in Baltimore, dropped out of high school, and got his GED when he was sixteen. After spending several years working as a bike mechanic and volunteering at a trauma center in downtown Baltimore, he attended Cornell University, where he studied English. Since graduating, Meyer has worked as a derivatives trader at UBS, a construction worker, and an EMT, among other jobs. His writing has been published in McSweeney's, The United States of McSweeney's, The Best of McSweeney's 11-20, Esquire UK, The Iowa Review, The Independent (UK), Salon.com, and New Stories from the South. From 2005 to 2008 Meyer was a fellow at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. He splits his time between Texas and upstate New York.

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Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
May 18, 2020
”’I don’t have to tell you what this land used to look like,’ he said. ‘And you don’t have to tell me that I am the one who ruined it. Which I did, with my own hands, and ruined forever. You’re old enough to remember when the grass between here and Canada was balls high to a Belgian, and yes it is possible that in a thousand years it will go back to what it once was, though it seems unlikely. But that is the story of the human race. Soil to sand, fertile to barren, fruit to thorns. It is all we know how to do.’”

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The making of the West, or in my opinion the unmaking of the West, can best be described with the word eradication. Numerous species of animals, but most noticeably the wholesale slaughter of the massive buffalo herds, are part of the agenda to clear the way for further exploitation. The Indians are pesky and do not go gentle into that good night, but eventually they too are decimated by bullets and disease to the point that the last few Indians, like survivors from a post-apocalyptic event, are herded onto reservations by these alien white devil invaders where, if they are lucky, they can manage to drink themselves to death before they starve. The grass is eaten down by cattle to the point that it will never be as majestic as when the Spanish conquistador Coronado made his way across the prairie. Sodbusters come in after most of the blood has been spilled, to till up the soil, which eventually leads to the Dust Bowl in the Dirty Thirties.

Hubris, lots of hubris.

The story of the West is not an uplifting experience. Sure, there are great stories about survival against the elements, or the bear BAR attack that Hugh Glass was too stubborn to let kill him, or the story of men who stand up to those who are taking advantage of those weaker than themselves. It is about beating the odds with some combination in equal measure of skill and luck.

We can romanticize the making of the West and ignore the sordid details, or even turn those rather bloody details into something more akin to a crusade to free the land from the infidels. It depends on a person’s capability of concocting elaborate, but well edited, fantasies, not that there aren’t things to admire in these people who put their lives on the line to find a better life for themselves and those who will come after them.

The center of this universe is Eli McCullough and his descendents. They are doomed to live in his shadow. His life is not easy; in fact, it starts out so dire that I’d have laid good odds this was one man who was not going to live long enough to make any impact on history.

I’d have been wrong.

Eli watches his mother and sister be raped and butchered by Comanches. He watches his brother die by clubbing. He is spared because he is young enough to be integrated into the tribe and is adopted by Toshaway. ”“But the whites do not think this way-- they prefer to forget that everything they want already belongs to someone else. They think, “Oh I am white, this must be mine.” And they believe it, Tiehteti. I have never seen a white person who did not look surprised when you killed them.’ He shrugged. ’Me, when I steal something, I expect the person to try to kill me, and I know the song I will sing when I die.’”

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Now, what is interesting is, as Eli gets older, we hear him paraphrasing Toshaway’s philosophy to justify is his own actions. ”The Garcias got the land, by cleaning off the Indians, and that is how we had to get it. And one day that is how someone will get it from us. Which I encourage you not to forget.” He is fully aware of how temporary his hold is on anything he owns and knows that no one owns anything that they didn’t in some form or fashion take from someone else. I’d go into how those rich people that Americans seem to venerate so much became rich, but I think we all know that story, and it dovetails perfectly with Eli’s philosophy about ownership.

Toshaway calls Eli Tiehteti, which is his Indian name meaning pathetic little white man. What is interesting is the Comanches may have their names changed many times in their lifetime to better fit who they have become. There is a woman who becomes Hates to Work. A captive German girl is called Yellow Hair Between the Legs. My favorite though is the poor bastard who is called Cock That Stays Hard. If they were labeled with a name they didn’t like, they would just have to work diligently to become known for something more distinguished.

The book spans seven generations, but there are three main characters who we spend the most time with: Eli McCullough, his son Peter, and Eli’s great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne. Peter is the most affected by living in the shadow of his now iconic and famous father. He is a more sensitive soul who wants to live a more principled life than the one carved out by his father. ”I went upstairs to my office, lay in the dark among my books--the only comforting thing I have. An exile in my own house, my own family, maybe in my own country.” He says country, but what he really means is Texas with a larger than just capital T. His isolation increases as his sons identify more with Eli and embrace his no holds barred approach to holding onto and acquiring everything one can. Peter falls in love with a woman with the wrong last name...Garcia, which brings him into more conflict with his father.

Jeanne Anne ends up owning the bulk of the estate. McCullough men keep dying in wars, misadventure, and some just wander off to make their own way in the world. It isn’t easy being a woman in a man’s world. Like Peter, she feels her isolation keenly. ”People made no sense to her. Men, with whom she had everything in common, did not want her around. Women, with whom she had nothing in common, smiled too much, laughed too loud, and mostly reminded her of small dogs, their lives lost in interior decorating and other people's’ outfits. There has never been a place for a person like her.”

There are so many astute quotes. The book is frankly a quote machine. One of my favorites is when Eli makes the observation that his employees have become caricatures of themselves. The frontier had not yet settled when Buffalo Bill began his shows and the Colonel always complained about the moment his cowboys began to read novels about other cowboys; they had lost track of which was more true, the books or their own lives.”

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This is an epic about monumental pioneers who are revealed to us by the deft pen of Philipp Meyer as real people with faults and goodness in equal measure. I think it is interesting how little these people from each generation really know about each other. Strengths are seen as weaknesses, and weaknesses are perceived as strengths. It makes me think about how little I really know about my father, my grandmother or any of my relatives. What do my kids really know about me?

Tonight, April 8th, 2017, AMC is debuting the series based on this book. I plan on watching it and will be ”packing my gun loose.” Here is the trailer: The Son on AMC

”I content myself to think that one day we will all be nothing but marks in stone. Iron stains of blood, black of our carbon, a hardening clay.”

Our ownership of anything is temporary. Our riches, in the scope of history, are almost made irrelevant soon after amassing them. As Jeanne says regarding heaven: “Trump, Walton, Gates, herself; they would be no more interesting than the garbagemen.” Frankly, I find them terminally boring now.

A balanced, real view of the West that I highly recommend.

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,295 reviews120k followers
April 13, 2017
On the ranch they had found points from both the Clovis and the Folsom. For the eight thousand years between Folsom and the Spanish, no one knew what happened; there had been people here the whole time, but no one knew what they were called. Though right before the Spanish came there were the Mogollan and when the Spanish came there were the Suma, Jumano, Manso, La Junta, Concho and Chisos and Toboso, Ocana and Cacaxtle, the Coahuiltecans, Comecrudo…but whether they had wiped out the Mogollon or were descended from them, no one knew. They were all wiped out by the Apache. Who were in turn wiped out, in Texas anyway, by the Comanche. Who were in turn wiped out by the Americans.

A man, a life—it was barely worth mentioning. The Visigoths had destroyed the Romans, and themselves been destroyed by the Muslims. Who were destroyed by the Spanish and Portuguese. You did not need Hitler to see that it was not a pleasant story. And yet here she was. Breathing, having these thoughts. The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were.
The Son is a magnificent family saga, covering two hundred years of Texan, but more significantly American history. Do not be fooled into thinking this is just a book about the Longhorn state. In the same way that Billy Lynn's Long Half-Time Walk (also set in Texas) took a specific day to stand for an entire period, The Son takes a much larger swath but remains a stand-in for the nation as a whole. A ranching and oil dynasty rises in parallel with the USA rising as a global power.

Items covered include the settlement of Texas by Americans, Indian Wars (sometimes from the perspective of the Indians), The Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Depression. Economic shifts, rise of oil in international importance, significance of corruption in government, impact of increasing difficulty of drilling in the USA and rise of the Middle East as the world’s major source of oil, including some economic intrigue involving the use of insider information. The misuse of the land is raised, as is the complicated relationships between residents of Mexico, Texas, and some who traveled both sides of the border.

Meyer splits the task of looking at different times in American history among three members of the McCullough dynasty. Eli McCullough is the patriarch of this clan, born not on the Fourth of July, but on the Second of March, 1836, otherwise known as Texas Independence Day. He is, literally, the first Texan. (Well, as with the US Declaration of Independence, it was not completely Ok’d until the next day, but who’s counting?) and is as large a character as the state itself. We meet him when he is 100 years old, in 1936, looking back on his life and times, (a la Jack Crabb in Thomas Berger’s Little Big Man) and some bloody times they were. Early settlers into what was still Mexico overwhelming the locals with numbers and guns. Bloodshed aplenty as a new population displaces current residents, whether Mexican citizens or one of the many Indian tribes in the area. Eli is captured by a Comanche raiding party that kills and abuses most of his family. Later he becomes a Texas Ranger, as a substitute for criminal prosecution, making the Rangers remind one of the French Foreign Legion.

The second perspective is that of Jeanne Anne McCullough, Eli’s great-granddaughter. We meet her at age 86, injured, on the floor of her home in 2012, and are treated to her recollections as well. She is the primary female character here, a crusty old bird who is also shown in softer light earlier in her life. But while softer, Jeanne was still tough even as a kid, eager to cowgirl up, take on tasks usually reserved for men, and was unable and unwilling to adapt to the very different expectations of northeastern refinery. Adaptation, and recognizing change, seeing the truth in front of her, or not, figures in her journey. She will use ill-gotten knowledge for personal gain some day.

Finally there is Peter, born in 1870, one of Eli’s sons, and Jeanne’s grandfather. Peter is the superego to Eli’s id. He struggles with what he sees as excessive violence in which his father revels, and tries as best he can to act in a moral way. I found Peter’s character to be the most real of the three. Constantly having to manage moral as well as physical conflict. He is the romantic of the crew. You will love him.

We see all three come of age in very different ways. Eli is taken captive by raiding Comanches as a thirteen-year-old We see Jeanne wanting to be who she is but struggling against the bias of the age that preferred its women less hardy, adventurous and determined. We see Peter struggling to reconcile his family and community responsibilities as a young man with the cruelty of his father and the racist townspeople determined to drive out the other, who happen to be people he knows, respects and even loves.

There is enough carnage in The Son to make fans of Cormac McCarthy lock and load. One particularly brutal event is nothing less than anti-Mexican pogrom. And there is enough political inspection to make fans of Steinbeck perk up when Eli says things like:
let the records show that the better classes, the Austins and Houstons, were all content to remain citizens of Mexico so long as they could keep their land. Their descendants have waged wars of propaganda to clear their names and have them declared Founders of Texas. In truth it was only the men like my father, who had nothing, who pushed Texas into war.
Meyer also notes several instances in which the victors write history that is distinctly at variance with how events actually occurred.

There is a lot in here about how change sweeps in and the present is always in the path of a rampaging future, whether one is talking about wilderness being replaced by farming and ranching, working the land being replaced by digging through it, or one population displacing another. Meyer highlights a major theme of the book when the last Comanche chief is found to be carrying a copy of History of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Meyer takes on some regional stereotypes as well.
There is a myth about the West, that it was founded and ruled by loners, while the truth is just the opposite; the loner is a mental weakling, and was seen as such, and was treated with suspicion. You did not live long without someone watching your back and there were very few people, white or Indian, who did not see a stranger in the night and invite them to join a campfire.
The Teggs-us Rangers of the mid 18th-century would seem to have had a lot more in common with The Dirty Dozen than they might have had with Seal Team Six. It is also clear that there has been little change in the fact that governments often want services but are not always eager to actually pay for them. The corruption of those in power seems constant across the time-scape here.

Wandering notions. We are always on the lookout for possible connections to the classics. There are some here but they do not seem central. The Eli of the bible lives to 98 and has a son named Phineas. This one lives to 100 and also has a son named Phineas. One might see in the Comanche raids here a link to the Philistine raids of the earlier time. Also Eli was cursed by God that his male descendants would not see old age. This is not entirely the case here, but the death rate is alarmingly high for this Eli’s progeny through the generations. There is a Ulysses in this story, who, like his namesake, goes on a quest. And Eli is referred to in this way as well, in Peter’s diaries:
I began to think how often he was home during my childhood (never), my mother making excuses for him. Did she forgive him that day, at the very end. I do not. She was always reading to us, trying to distract us; she gave us very little time to get bored, or to notice he was gone. Some children’s version of the Odyssey, my father being Odysseus. Him versus the Cyclops, the Lotus Eaters, the Sirens, Everett, being much older, off reading by himself. Later I found his journals, detailed drawings of brown-skinned girls without dresses….My assumption, as my mother told us that my father was like Odysseus, was that I was Telemachus…now it seems more likely I will turn out a Telegonus or some other lost child whose deeds were never recorded. And of course there are other flaws in the story as well.
But ultimately, I do not think there is a core classical reflection at work here, just a bit of condiment for the large meal at hand. In an interview with the LA Times, Meyer cites among influences Steinbeck, Joyce, Woolf and Scottish writer James Kelman. I am sure those with a greater familiarity with works by those authors will find many connections in The Son that my limited knowledge prevented me from seeing.

The Son is Meyer’s second novel, well, second published novel anyway. He wrote a couple before American Rust was published in 2009. He wrote that while in an MFA program in Austin. He has it in mind that this book, which was initially called American Son would form the second volume of a trilogy. It is even more impressive when one considers that Meyer was born in Baltimore, in a neighborhood known more for John Waters films than Indian wars and oil booms.

Family sagas can be fun reads, long, engaging and hopefully educational. They can, of course, be over-long, post too many characters to keep track of and become tedious. Sometimes, though, they exceed all expectations and levitate above the crowd in the genre due to the craft of their creation, the quality of their characters, and the depth of their historical portraits. Some, like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth rise to the level of literature. The Son also rises.

The trade paperback edition came out on January 28, 2014

TV mini-series - April 9. 2017

================================EXTRA STUFF

5/21/13 - Rave review from Ron Charles of the Washington Post

Author’s page


2010 LA Times interview with Meyer

Meyer was interviewed yesterday on the WNYC Leonard Lopate program - definitely worth a listen

6/20/13 - Janet Maslin's NYTimes review, The Glory and Brutality of a Purebred Texan Clan

12/16/13 - The Son was named one of the best fiction books of 2013 by Kirkus

4/14/14 - The Son was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer
Profile Image for Nick.
175 reviews49 followers
August 7, 2013
I'm really dumbfounded what happened here. A cursory glance at this and I'd expect this to rank high on an all time list: it's a huge sweeping multigenerational epic, covering huge swaths of American history; it's a postmodern tale of the American West replete with blood lust, scalp-hungry marauding Indians, vigilante ranchers, and oil barons. It's socially and politically subversive, in that it both challenges how frontiersmen confronted race and privilege as well as exposing America's less than honorable methods of procuring land and fulfilling Manifest Destiny.
So much potential. While the bones of the story kept me reading, the writing felt hackneyed, lacking elegance, lacking rhythm, and lacking a distinct voice. The whole of the novel 'told' the reader the story rather than 'showing'. In my experience, novelists that tackle the American West should have the requisite rhythm to mirror the subject. And perhaps that is expecting a bit much, but the lack thereof made reading this almost a chore. And while it was clear Meyer did his research, not all of said research was completely seamlessly integrated. I say that because I noticed he did his research, rather than it simply buoying the story.
Profile Image for Matt.
917 reviews28.2k followers
March 26, 2020
“A man, a life, it was barely worth mentioning. The Visigoths had destroyed the Romans, and themselves been destroyed by the Muslims. Who were destroyed by the Spanish and the Portuguese…[I]t was not a pleasant story. And yet here she was breathing, having these thoughts. The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were…”
- Phillip Meyer, The Son

There’s no way I’m going to call this the great American novel. I would have to define what that meant, and I’d have to support it, and then I’d have to argue with everyone trying to convince me of Moby Dick’s essential worth. No, we’ll leave that to the English majors of the world.

Even if there is such a thing as the great American novel, Philipp Meyer’s The Son would not grab that ring. That requires the test of time.

It is, however, an instant classic. More specifically, it is a great American novel. Stress the American. Its themes and tropes are quintessentially American: part captivity narrative; part conqueror’s arc; part rags-to-riches. The main characters – the scion of the McCullough dynasty and his heirs – embody the American character, both mythological and real: courageous, self-reliant, industrious, violent, moralizing, hypocritical, and endlessly rationalizing.

It’s the story of how America came to be, as well as the story of how Americans came to see ourselves.

Also, it’s beautifully written and gloriously fun to read. Things that are also important in a classic. Or so I tried to convince my English teachers, to no avail.

The Son chiefly follows three members of the McCullough family: Eli McCullough, a famed Texas Ranger turned rancher turned oil man; his son, Peter, who struggles in his father’s violent shadow; and Jeannie, Eli’s great-granddaughter, who shares many traits with Eli despite a different gender and time-period.

The stories of each of these characters is told in chapters devoted solely to them. The individual chapters unfold chronologically, following their own arc, but the timeline as a whole twines in and out. That is, Eli’s chapters, which run from the 1830s to the 1860s, are interspersed with Peter’s chapters, which mostly takes place in 1917, and Jeannie’s, which ranges from 1926 to the 1980s. (There is overlap, of course, such as when Eli shows up in Peter's chapters. But even when that happens, it is peripheral, since the chapters stick close to their chosen character).

Each of these character-chapters are told in a different style. Eli’s story is told in the first-person, from the point-of-view of an aged Eli giving a recording for the WPA. Peter’s tale unfolds as a series of diary entries. Jeannie’s chapters are presented in the third-person limited perspective; when we first meet her, she is an old woman who has fallen on the floor and can’t get up. As she lays there, she looks back on the momentous events of her life.

(The conceit for Eli’s and Peter’s stories are kind of ridiculous. I doubt that Eli, a staunch opponent of Franklin Roosevelt, would have deigned to participate in a program that was one of the centerpieces of the New Deal. Even if he had, he wouldn’t have gone into the murderous detail that he does. The same with Peter and his diary. Does anyone write long pages of dialogue in their diaries? No, of course not. Still, this novel is so good that I forgive it’s somewhat silly storytelling mechanisms).

Of the three separate plotlines, Eli’s is the most vivid and gripping. It begins in 1849, on the eve of a sudden Comanche raid on his family’s homestead. The lead-up to the massacre is as tense and unforgettable as anything in The Searchers. The massacre itself is a terrifying explosion of violence that is masterfully effective in mixing the graphic with the discreet:

[M]ost of the Indians were standing looking at something on the ground. There was a white leg crooked in the air and a man’s bare ass and buckskin leggings on top. I realized it was my mother and by the way the man was moving and the bells on his legs were jingling I knew what he was doing to her. After awhile he stood up and retied his breechcloth. Another jumped right into place. I had just gotten to my feet when my ears started ringing and the ground came up and I thought I was dead for certain…A while later I heard noises again. I could see the second group of Indians a little farther down the fence but now I could hear my sister’s voice whimpering. The Indians were doing the same to her as my mother…

Young Eli is taken captive by the Comanche. Eventually, he is adopted into the tribe, taking quickly to their way of life. Slowly, the Comanche, who first appear as shadows and demons during their midnight raid, are revealed as people. Eli’s adoptive father, Toshaway, is far more important to Eli than his biological father ever was.

Eli’s time with the Comanche is this novel’s great achievement. The research that went into the evocation of their vanished way of life is amazing (I wish Meyer had included a bibliography, or at least a mention of the books he used).

Just as great an accomplishment are his Comanche characters. In a book that doesn’t have a lot of space to devote to secondary characters, Toshaway, Nuukaru, and Escute make lasting impressions. Their profane dialogue, studded with f-words and detailed sexual banter, sounds a bit anachronistic. But it also sounds like the way friends talk amongst themselves. Instead of Indian characters who are either inhuman savages or noble gamekeepers (the Dances With Wolves dichotomy), speaking with a stilted, passive-voiced oratorical style, you get Indian characters who are simply human.

(It bears repeating: I absolutely loved every part of Eli’s interactions with Toshaway, Nuukaru, and Escute. It is impressive writing. More than that, it is refreshing, especially given the treatment of the Comanche in even modern histories. For example, S.C. Gwynn, in Empire of the Summer Moon, describes them in near-barbarous terms, conjuring an image of Stone-Age cave-dwellers with only lower-order functioning).

Everything about Eli’s early story is essential, dealing as it does with the thin line between life and death. Against this fundamental drama, the Peter and Jeannie chapters necessarily suffer by comparison.

Of the two, I enjoyed Jeannie’s storyline the best. It took awhile for me to become invested, but Meyer ultimately provides her with two or three or four beautiful vignettes that efficiently and effectively describe the course of her life. Especially memorable is Jeannie’s short-lived time at an Eastern prep school. There, a Texas ranch girl among preppy bluebloods, Jeannie undergoes a less violent, mirror-twinned version of her great-grandfather’s captivity.

Peter’s story worked the least. The reason, I suppose, is that Peter is saddled with the weight of being the moral compass of the McCullough family. This makes him a good guy but also a wet blanket. His chapters take place during a time of high tension on the Tex-Mex border, when America almost went to war with Mexico. He is witness to a brutal confrontation between his family and a neighboring ranch owned by a man named Pedro Garcia. The climax to this neighborly squabble ultimately defines the brooding, philosophical-minded Peter.

About half-way through The Son, I began to wonder if Meyer hadn’t shot his bolt early on. Eli’s opening act, the massacre of his family, his captivity, his transformation into the Comanche warrior Tiehteti, are so vital and breathless, that they couldn’t possibly be sustained. However, despite a drop in dramatic urgency, the novel itself never falters. The three interweaving plot threads all inform each other: in one chapter, a character is alive and young; in the next, he or she might be old or a ghost, but still resonating. There is an incredible cumulative effect created by Meyer’s framework.

The Son weighs in at around 550 pages. Not short, but certainly not terribly long, either. Especially not for a canvas this large. Meyer’s creations could easily have expanded into a book the size of War and Peace (and I would have gladly read every page). Despite the relative brevity, the unfilled spaces in the lives of these characters, The Son achieves almost perfect balance. I thought about these fictional people long after I finished the novel. It’s ending – especially the last lines – are haunting.

There are so many comparisons to be made to other great works. If I were being pithy, I could say that The Son has a bit of the stark violence of Blood Meridian or In the Rogue Blood; the elegiacal tinge of Lonesome Dove; and a splash of Dallas as viewed through the prism of the Hatfield and the McCoy’s.

Really, though, it’s a damn fine American novel telling a thoroughly American story.

I���ve read The Son several times since first cracking the cover, and in time, I think I might have to change the opening lines of this review. In time, this might be the great American novel.

At least if I get the vote.
October 22, 2018
«Ο Γιος», ταιριάζει στους ορισμούς τόσου του έπους, όσο και του απόλυτου μυθιστορήματος.
Ένας πολύτιμος λίθος πολυπρισματικής γραφής με μια δύναμη που ζωντανεύει τους μύθους και την ιστορία του Τέξας, καθώς και την αμερικανική ιστορία.

Η τελειότητα του συγκεκριμένου μυθιστορήματος έγκειται κυρίως στο γεγονός του απέριττου μεγαλείου του. Κάθε πρόταση, παράγραφος, χαρακτήρας, ιστορική αναφορά, είναι μια ολοζώντανη απεικόνιση, πιστευτή, σκληρά αληθινή, επιβλητική και υπέρλαμπρη.
Δεν υπάρχει κάτι που να είναι περιττό ή κουραστικό.

Πραγματεύεται την ιστορία της οικογένειας ΜακΚάλα απο το 1836 εως το 2012.
Τρία μέλη της οικογένειας αφηγούνται, ο καθένας με την δική του προοπτική προσέγγισης και εμπειρίας.

Ο «συνταγματάρχης», Ίλαϊ ΜακΚάλα, πατριάρχης της θρυλικής οικογένειας, γιος Ιρλανδού μετανάστη. Ξεκινάει την αφήγηση απο τα παιδικά του χρόνια, τη δεκαετία του 1840 μέχρι και τα εκατοστά του γενέθλια. Ένας αιώνας βίαιης ιστορίας και σκληρού ρεαλισμού.

Ο Πίτερ ΜακΚάλα, γιος του Ίλαϊ, αφηγείται με τη δική του ξεχωριστή εμμονή στην πνευματικότητα, την ηθική και τη συναισθηματική φόρτιση που τον εμπλέκει σε συνειδησιακούς εφιάλτες Η ψυχή του αρνείται την πραγματικότητα και η εποχή του καλύπτει κυρίως τα χρόνια του πρώτου παγκόσμιου πολέμου.

Η Τζίνι ΜακΚάλα, εγγονή του Πίτερ, αγωνίζεται να αποκτήσει τα απαγορευμένα δικαιώματα της γυναικείας υπόστασης και να εδραιώσει τη θέση της στις κτηνοτροφικές και πετρελαϊκές επιχειρήσεις της οικογένειας.
Η ιστορία της καλύπτει τα χρόνια απο το 1936 εως το 2012.

Οι αφηγήσεις τους διαρθρώνονται περιστροφικά με εναλλαγή προσώπου σε κάθε κεφάλαιο.
Αποκαλύπτονται σταδιακά τα μυστικά και ψέματα της οικογένειας ΜακΚάλα, η ματωμένη ιστορία του Τέξας, οι διευθετήσεις και οι συγκρούσεις μεταξύ Ινδιάνων, λευκών αποίκων και Μεξικανών, η εγκαθίδρυση κρατικής υπόστασης, απόσχιση και αμερικανικός εμφύλιος πόλεμος, κτηνοτροφική παραγωγή, μισθοφόροι της άγριας Δύσης και παγκόσμια οικονομία βασισμένη στο βαμβάκι και τις πετρελαϊκές πηγές.

Ο Μάγιερ γράφει υπέροχα, υπεύθυνα και δημιουργικά. Μέσα απο τις περιγραφές του ξεπηδάει η διερεύνηση που προηγήθηκε μαθαίνοντας για τις χρονικές περιόδους και τις τοπικές κοινότητες και αναπτύσσονται δεξιότητες που χρειάζονται οι χαρακτήρες του για να σοκάρουν και να γοητεύσουν τους αναγνώστες.

Η έρευνα του συγγραφέα προκαλεί μια έντονη αίσθηση αυθεντικότητας. Εκπληκτικά αφόρητες οι περιγραφές σχετικά με τις συνήθειες διαβίωσης και επιβίωσης των Ινδιάνικων φυλών.
Όλες οι σκηνές απεικονίζονται άψογα και παραστατικά, απο τα τοπία της καυτής ερήμου μέχρι την άγρια δροσιά του αίματος που ξεδιψάει αδένες βαρβάρων πολεμιστών.
Οι φωνές ακούγονται πραγματικά και οι χαρακτήρες έχουν το χάρισμα και το ρεαλισμό που επιτρέπει στο μυθιστόρημα να οικοδομήσει τον αμερικανικό μύθο της δημιουργίας με ιδανικό τρόπο.

Ο Μάγιερ δεν χαρακτηρίζει τους ήρωες του με απόδοση τίτλων καλού ή κακού σε καμία απο τις περιπτώσεις συγκρούσεων του μυθιστορήματος.
Καταδεικνύει έντονα τις συμπεριφορές τους σύμφωνα με την ανθρώπινη φύση και τους νόμους επικράτησης του πιο ισχυρού.
Είναι μια κυκλική εξέλιξη που συνεχίζεται αέναα στην ιστορία.
Οι λευκοί άποικοι κλέβουν, στην ουσία, τη γη απο τους Μεξικανούς, οι οποίοι την έκλεψαν απο φυλές Ινδιάνων, που την είχαν πάρει βίαια απο προγενέστερες Ινδιάνικες κοινότητες.
Μια ιστορία προσαρμογής ή αφανισμού σε έναν σκληρό αλλά όμορφο κόσμο που καταργεί, δημιουργείται και εξελίσσεται.

Θα ήθελα περισσότερες σελίδες ιστορίας ειδικά προς το τέλος του βιβλίου, ώστε να απολαύσω το ίδιο πλούσιο επίπεδο λεπτομέρειας μέχρι την τελευταία σκηνή.

Υποθετικά, όταν τελειώνει ένα μυθιστόρημα άνω των 600 σελίδων και επιθυμείς να υπήρχαν περισσότερες, αποδίδεται η καλύτερη κριτική αξιολόγηση που θα μπορούσε να γίνει.

💎 🏹🏜🏜⛰🏕⛺️🏹💎

Καλή ανάγνωση
Πολλούς ασπασμούς!!
Profile Image for Edward.
361 reviews909 followers
February 21, 2023
*2nd Read - Such a sublime book. Thought provoking and heartbreaking.*

*3rd Read - The segment with Eli and the Comanche is just written so perfectly. I always feel like I am there.*

Since reading The Son I have been spurred on to read about and explore the life of the Native American bands of the Comanches. The Son opened my eyes to a whole culture and civilisation that I had always overlooked, but instantly became fascinated by. The more I have discovered about the Comanches the more I have respected The Son and the knock-on affect I have felt since reading it.

Check out my review for The Son by Philipp Meyer on Grimdark Magazine here: Grimdark Magazine

The Son is an epic novel that scales the history of the American west over 3 generations of a family, the McCulloughs. It is an instant classic, a masterpiece and a heartbreaking story that does not shy away from the horrific and honest truth of how America was formed, right from its very bones.

“Follow your footprints long enough and they will turn into those of a beast.”

Philip Meyer has written a book that immediately captured all of my attention. It follows 3 POVs of the McCullough family, Eli - born 1836, Peter - born 1874 and Jeannette - born 1934. After reading Cormac McCarthy’s awe-inspiring ‘Blood Meridian I have not been able to get enough of the American West and have been on a reading binge focusing on the real ‘old west’ era. Because of this the thread written around Eli McCullough and his story was my main interest, but much to my surprise the two interweaving storylines of Peter and Jeanette sparked a need to know everything about them and what happens to them.

The prose within The Son is reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy. There are subtle differences in the language and a focus on other aspects of story-telling, Philip Meyer has crafted his own style and it is completely wonderful. If you are a fan of Cormac McCarthy, you’ll be a fan of Meyer. His writing has no pride, no secrets, just brutal honesty and an extremely direct and breathtaking way of writing what happens next to our characters.

“My brother began to cry out in his sleep; I started to shake him, then stopped. There wasn’t any dream he could be having that would be as bad as waking up.” 

Eli is interweaved throughout all three stories, as he is the oldest and basically the ‘Don Corleone’ character in the Peter and Jeanette sections. However, Eli’s own storyline was my favourite by a long shot, even though there are some absolutely horrific scenes in these parts. Eli’s family are killed by a Comanche tribe when he is a young boy and they take him captive. He then must do all he can to adapt, survive and fight the cruel world into which he has been born.

Peter, Eli’s son, is at war with his father’s own fame and power, and bears witness to horrors himself that completely misshape his life. Jeanette, Eli’s great-granddaughter is a woman who is in a typically man’s world, who wants to show everyone what she can do and how she is a true McCullough.

“If you hate me it is because I have morals.”

The three characters and three timelines were written so well that it was not difficult to follow whatsoever, and over 561 pages of this epic story there is plenty of time to invest in all three and understand exactly what is underneath their layers. I found myself begging for more chapters of their stories, more depth. 

“I might be killed any day, by whites or hostile Indians, I might be run down by a grizzly or a pack of buffalo wolves, but I rarely did anything I didn't feel like doing, and maybe this was the main difference between the whites and the Comanches, which was the whites were willing to trade all their freedom to live longer and eat better, and the Comanches were not willing to trade any of it.”

There is everything for fans of literature here; the exhilarating gunfights on the Mexican border, the romantic, natural but deadly lifestyle of the Comanche Native American’s, the forbidden love of a rival-family member, a strong female character who is equal in standing to any Colonel, beautiful prose, a sweeping plot that lifts you from your feet and drops you in the saddle of an enthusiastic American Paint Horse. There is so, so much to like, so much to love. It instilled a love within me for the Comanche way of life, and invoked such sadness when characters I grew fond of died, or befell hideous accidents or tragedies.

“It is impossible to believe we are truly in God's image. Something of the reptile in us yet, the caveman's allegiance to the spear. A vestige of our time in the swamps. And yet there are those who wish to return. Be more like the reptile, they say. Be more like the snake, lying in wait. Of course, they do not say snake, they say lion, but there is little difference in character between the two, only in appearance.”

5/5 – There’s a lot of tragedy in this book. It is an epic tragedy of the birth of the West, of America and the rise and fall of a family changed by new ways of life. There is little joy or happiness within The Son, but it is an astounding feat of writing. You may read it and instantly want to make a bow out of deer sinew and osage wood, you may want to experience riding a horse in the dry plains of Texas, you may want to never dwell on the horrors that The Son highlights. You may, like me, experience all three.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
December 11, 2013
A great read for me—I could hardly put it down. Everything is big in Texas, and in this saga a family line gets big in alignment with a big history. Luckily it doesn’t do a Michener of trying to cover a vast epoch using a huge cast.

Meyer sticks stays mostly with three fascinating and complex characters of three different generations of the McCulloch family, spanning about a century and a half. The frontispiece contains the lineage for the three: patriarch Eli, his son Peter, and great-granddaughter Jeannie, whose alternating voices spin out the tale. The period for Eli covers from the time of early Anglo and German immigrant pioneers to a south Texas border zone between the Nueces Rio Grande Rivers, the transition from open range cattlemen to fenced ranching, a and larger wave of settlement stimulated by the rise of railroads. I will reveal nothing more than to say that Eli’s development is bound up with his early experiences with the Comanches, a wandering and dangerous life with the Texas Rangers, and struggles to build a ranching empire after the Civil War, which together makes a substantial and enthralling part of this book.

Eli and Peter are both marked from events surrounding the brutal competition for land and dominion between the new settlers and Spanish families in residence for a century or more. But they are shaped in opposite ways. Eli sees himself part of the primeval trend that is well captured by the theme in Mitchell’s “Cloud Atlas”: ‘The weak are meat the strong do eat’, while Peter seeks to walk the walk of peace and tolerance. From the first pages, Eli, the “Colonel”, is reflecting back from age 100, so we know he thrived, while by page two we know that somewhere along the line Peter has disappeared. Eli’s outlook is steeped in the harshness of a dog-eat-dog world:

The Spanish had been in Texas hundreds of years but nothing had come of it. …The Lipan Apaches stopped the old conquistadores in their tracks. …Then came the Comanche. The earth had seen nothing like it since the Mongones; they drove the Apaches into the sea, destroyed the Spanish army, turned Mexico into a slave market. …The Comanche philosophy toward outsiders was nearly papal in its thoroughness: torture and kill the men, rape and kill the women, take the children for slaves or adoption.

Still, he disarms us with his irreverent humor:
The thing about preachers … is if they ain’t sparkin’ your daughters, or eatin’ all the fried chicken and pie in your icebox, they’re cheatin’ your son on horses.” .

Also in the first pages the voice Jeannie appears, also reflecting back from old age, 86, many years later. As a tomboy in love with the ranch and land, she admired ancient Eli above all. In Sunday school as a girl she recalls:
When she asked the teacher what would happen to the Colonel …the teacher said he was going to hell, where he would be tortured by Satan himself. ‘In that case, I am going with him’, Jennie said. She was a disgraceful little scamp. She would have been whipped if she were Mexican.

Where the privileged sons of the family wander away from home base, Jeannie fulfills the mission of Eli to grow the family wealth by becoming an oil tycoon. Though she is not a warm person, we root for her to succeed at this man’s game.

While in Jeannie’s first section her disappeared grandfather Peter is not anyone she thinks about( “no one had anything good to say about him”), Peter’s story from his journals makes him the moral compass of the saga. He bears the sins of the fathers, and in response he transgresses the rules of the culture. He goes along with his father in the first steps to convert the ranch to oil production, but his heart isn’t into dynasties. His despairs of human destructiveness:

The entire earth, it seems, is being slowly transformed into a desert; mankind will die off and something new will replace it. There is no reason that there should only be one human race. I was likely born a thousand years too early, or ten thousand. One day those like my father will seem like the Romans who fed Christians to the lions. … What we need is another great ice to come and sweep us into the ocean. To give God a second chance.

These three voices were incredibly real for me, revealing characters of mythic proportions, but achingly real. Most of all, I appreciated the sense of place evoked in the story. I lived for a time in the Hill Country of Texas, which ends just to the north and east of this sparsely populated area of dry grassland, Dimmit County. Thus, I could relate to the flora and fauna, such as the cottonwoods and live oaks, the hawks and vultures. I miss those vistas beneath the big sky that makes you feel small and large at the same time. How does one make a mark of the history of a place so big, and how does one emerge from a history that marks you with terrible sacrifices?

Jeannie, despite all her successes, can’t help feeling alone and small. The year Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, she reflects that “it had not surprised her. The year he died, there were still living Texans who had seen their parents scalped by Indians. The land was thirsty. Something primitive still in it.” I was moved to experience how her outlook comes to be a hybrid of her forbears Eli and Peter:

A man, a life—it was barely worth mentioning. The Visigoths had destroyed the Romans, and had themselves been destroyed by the Muslims. Who were destroyed by the Spanish and Portuguese. You do not need Hitler to see that it was not a pleasant story. And yet here she was. Breathing, having these thoughts. The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were. …Even if God existed, to say he loved the human race was preposterous. It was just as likely the opposite …The strong took from the weak, only the weak believed otherwise, and if God was out there, he was just as the Greeks and Romans suspected; a trickster, an older brother who spent all his time inventing ways to punish you.

As you can tell, I highly recommend this book. It gave me some of the same pleasures of life's triumphs and losses against the backdrop of history of the American West as McMurtry's "Lonesome Dove".
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 121 books157k followers
June 3, 2013
Starts impressively but overall, feels too deliberate, too polished, too forcibly epic. Weird proofreading errors in several places. The narrative frame collapses about a third of the way through, just, utterly. The most compelling sections are those from Peter McCullough's diaries. He is, by far, the moral compass of this novel and the most well-drawn character. At times, the book reads like a history textbook. Absolutely grating. Too much of the writer inserting himself in the prose at times. The ending is rushed. If you're going to write an epic, write an epic. Jeannie, as the woman out of place and time, is so clichéd, spouting everything you would expect a woman who doesn't fit in with women or men to say. A total missed opportunity. The women are mostly narrow, and essentially serve as sexual vessels in one form or another. This is a man's book, for sure, and I get what the overall project is here, re: creation myths and the American west and so on. It's a good Western. It is not... the book of the year.

Don't get me wrong, Meyer is very talented, but this book is not nearly as good as the "buzz" suggests. And I'm probably wrong on this, and it's just me, but ugh, not my cup of tea. I feel like...I'd rather read Michener.
Profile Image for Warwick.
824 reviews14.5k followers
March 21, 2017
I had loved Meyer's American Rust when I read it during a holiday in Pennsylvania a couple of years back; a trip to Texas last week seemed like a good excuse to read his follow-up, which showed every sign of being a culmination of his many talents. The Son is a sprawling, multigenerational family tale, not a million miles away from the kind of AGA-saga that people like Joanna Trollope have been writing for years, though because the author is male and American the book – which in alternating chapters follows the members of three different generations from the 1830s to the present day – has been lauded as some kind of revolution in narrative structure.

The earliest storyline, which is by far the most compelling (there's problem one), consists of a first-person account by the family patriarch, who was abducted by Comanches and brought up first as a slave and eventually as an accepted member of the tribe. Here Meyer is in fine deadpan Western mode, channelling Faulkner and – especially – inviting risky comparisons with Cormac McCarthy, in relation to whom Meyer occasionally seems almost to be a pasticheur:

By sundown the walls of the canyon looked to be on fire and the clouds coming off the prairie were glowing like smoke in the light, as if this place were His forge and the Creator himself were still fashioning the earth.

Meyer's prose style is not as distinctive as McCarthy's, and he doesn't have quite the same bleakness of vision (Meyer reacts to man's violence with weariness and sympathy, while McCarthy reacts with pure horror), but he does have a stronger sense of plot and incident. Following Eli McCullough's early life as a Comanche captive is totally compelling from a purely narrative point of view, the inside portrayal of Comanche life is impressively convincing, and interleaving the stories of Eli's descendants makes it very clear how this violence was handed down to future generations.

There is a practical point being made here, which appealed to me: it's not anything high-flown about the metaphysics of conflict and death, but rather about the sober realities of how the American West was built on constant cycles of killing – whether of animals, Native Americans, Mexicans or neighbours – and how these cycles do not just replay endlessly in place but are also even exported (notice how later generations of McCulloughs, heavily involved in the oil industry, discuss creating further opportunities in Iran and Iraq).

On the ranch they had found points from both the Clovis and the Folsom, and while Jesus was walking to Calvary the Mogollon people were bashing each other with stone axes. When the Spanish came there were the Suma, Jumano, Manso, La Junta, Concho and Chisos and Toboso, Ocana and Cacaxtle, the Coahuiltecans, Comecrudos…but whether they had wiped out the Mogollons or were descended from them, no one knew. They were all wiped out by the Apaches. Who were in turn wiped out, in Texas anyway, by the Comanches. Who were finally wiped out by the Americans.

The book's title, then, doesn't refer to any son in particular. Rather, it brings to mind Biblical warnings about where the sins of the father will be visited: that sense of retribution, unfairness, and cyclical violence is what the novel is finally about. The cycles have not stopped and they show every sign of continuing to play out until we're all long gone.

The question is, do you need six hundred pages to illustrate that point? I felt that you didn't, and the book overstayed its welcome slightly for me; from around the halfway mark, I was silently urging, yes, yes, we get it and battling a growing sense that the more modern strands of narrative were underdeveloped and contributing little – they wouldn't stand on their own two feet and only worked as adjuncts to the richer story of the 1860s.

This practical problem, I suspect, is what motivated the novel's structure. Nevertheless, there are passages in here, of Comanche raids and southwestern hoodoos, that I wouldn't have missed for anything; and as a man-hands-on-misery-to-man family drama, it's full of gruff charm, emotional resonance, and pointed reflections on what lies behind the making of America.
Profile Image for Howard.
333 reviews230 followers
February 6, 2021
This is a review that I originally posted in July, 2014. For some inexplicable reason it vanished without leaving any explanation. Since it is a favorite book of mine, I am re-posting it.

Phillipp Meyer’s "The Son," a sprawling multi-generational epic set in Texas (which is always a good place to locate epics, especially the sprawling variety), begins with the family patriarch, Col. Eli McCullough.

"Most will be familiar with the date of my birth. The Declaration of Independence that bore the Republic of Texas out of Mexican tyranny was ratified March 2, 1836, in a humble shack at the edge of the Brazos. Half the signatories were malarial; the other half had come to Texas to escape a hangman’s noose. I was the first male child of this new republic.”

He grows up to become one tough hombre. He has not only seen it all, he has lived it. In his lifetime, he was a Comanche captive, Texas Ranger, Confederate colonel, cattle baron, and oil tycoon. Obviously, it had to be a long life -- and it was – one hundred years. How a young helpless boy at the mercy of his Comanche captors eventually became a wealthy tyrant wielding almost absolute power is at the heart of the novel.

“My birthday. Today, without the help of any whiskey, I have reached the conclusion: I am no one. Looking back over 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….”

Ron Charles perfectly characterizes Peter in his review in the Washington Post as “a prairie Hamlet among the Texas Medicis.” There is no way that the son can possibly surpass the father when it comes to achievements, or does he even want to. Instead, he is the novel’s conscience and critic. He deplores his father’s status as a giant in the land, but most of all he hates how his father has achieved that status and the harsh measures he resorts to in order to maintain it. There is no reward for such views. In fact, most people see him as a weak man -- and that includes his father.

If she were a better person she would not leave her family a dime; a few million, maybe, something to pay for college or if they got sick. She had grown up knowing that if a drought went on another year, or the ticks got worse, or the flies, if any single thing went wrong, the family would not eat. Of course, they had oil by then; it was an illusion. But her father had acted as if it was true, and she had believed it, and so it was.

…even as a child she’d been mostly alone. Her family had owned the town. People made no sense to her. Men, with whom she had everything in common, did not want her around. Women, with whom she had nothing in common, smiled too much, laughed too loud, and mostly reminded her of small dogs, their lives lost in interior decorating and other peoples’ outfits. There had never been a place for a person like her.

If the Colonel had a soul mate, it was his great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne. He had no respect and little love for his son, Peter, or his grandson, Charles, who was Jeanne Anne’s father. However, he doted on Jeanne Anne and she, who never knew her grandfather and also had little respect for her father, returned her great-grandfather’s affection.

As far as the Colonel was concerned, Peter was too soft and idealistic and in his own way, so was Charles, who was too tied to cattle and the land. The Colonel understood that down through the ages through war and conquest the land had been won and lost many times and he believed that it was subject to occurring again, that historical progress was a matter of destroying what had come before. Therefore, one should extract what one could from the land while one could. Charles wanted only to be a cattleman, but cattle ranching was a losing proposition. The Colonel’s solution – and Jeanne Anne’s – was to drill, drill for oil.

Despite his capture as a boy by the Comanches and their initial cruel treatment of him, the Colonel learned not only to respect them, but also to view them as family. They were practically the only people that he held in esteem.

He viewed the poor Mexicans of the area as people whose labor was to be exploited. But he also believed that the prosperous Mexicans who owned land were to be exploited as well. He believed that their time had passed and he viewed their property as fair game for the taking -- and he took.

His opinion of most of the whites in the area wasn't much higher either, with one exception. He had good things to say about the German settlers living around the town of Fredericksburg:

"Before the Germans came, it was thought impossible to make butter in a southern climate. It was also thought impossible to grow wheat. A slave economy does that to the human mind, but the Germans, who had not been told otherwise, arrived and began churning first-rate butter and raising heavy crops of the noble cereal, which they sold to their dumbfounded neighbors at a high profit.

“Your German had no allergy to work, which was conspicuous when you looked at his possessions. If, upon passing some field, you noticed the soil was level and the rows straight, the land belonged to a German. If the field was full of rocks, if the rows appeared to have been laid by a blind Indian, if it was December and the cotton had not been picked, you knew the land was owned by one of the local whites, who had drifted over from Tennessee and hoped that the bounties of Dame Nature would, by some witchery, yield him up a slave.”
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,685 followers
April 1, 2017
"Remember that," he sad, "None of it's worth a shit until you put your name on it."
-- Philipp Meyer, The Son


There are certain rare novels that 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 detail and its multi-generational 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 (perhaps, not quite up to their snuff, but a valiant effort). These authors set the stage that allowed Meyer to carve his novel out of the rich soil of the Texas and to shoot another Western myth into the the innumerable stars in the sky.
Profile Image for Amanda.
282 reviews315 followers
September 14, 2013
An epic tale of family set in a state big enough to bear the weight of legend, The Son follows three generations of the powerful McCullough family of Texas: "Colonel" Eli McCullough, the rough and tumble patriarch of the family, whose past includes being a Comanche captive and assimilated tribal member, Texas Ranger, Civil War Confederate, and Texas land baron; his son, Peter, a gentle soul tied to the land, but whose conscience weighs on him after his family's participation in the slaughter of their Mexican neighbors and subsequent land grab; and Jeannie McCullough, the granddaughter of Peter, who shuns society's gender defined role to become the family's first powerful matriarch in the wake of the Texas oil boom. Their stories are inextricably bound to the violent birth and coming of age of Texas.

Through his exploration of the chains of familial duty and legacy, Meyer is depicting more than just the turbulent years of our country's pioneering past. Texas serves as a microcosm through which Meyer skillfully explores the cyclical rise and fall of empire: the success of a tribe or a country or a family is written in the blood of another, one generation crashes into the next, a king must fall before "the son" can take his place. And yet it's more than that--when men build empires, they stare into the abyss of their own mortality and try to leave their mark on a world and a history so vast, so infinite that even the most significant of lives will eventually be consumed and forgotten. Passing the torch to the next generation becomes the only form of immortality one can hope for. But what happens when the next generation wants to build their own legacy, or can't make peace with the sins committed in their family's past? This is particularly evident in the chapters following Peter McCullough, a man defined by a guilt that's not his own, and also in the chapters about Jeannie McCullough, a woman who has to blaze her own trail to keep the family name alive.

The chapters about Eli McCullough are the most engrossing and Meyer doesn't pick sides in presenting the ensuing conflicts between pioneers and the Native Americans. There is no noble savage here; the Comanche are capable of stomach-churning violence (raping and mutilating Eli's mother and sister before his eyes, torturing enemies in their camp, raping and brutalizing captives), but they are also compassionate and funny in their relationships with one another. The same is true of the pioneers--engaging in unspeakable acts of cruelty against the Comanche and other tribes, they are not monsters entire. Instead, both sides are all human with "Something of the reptile in us yet, the caveman's allegiance to the spear." The fight for land and dominance was not unique to the whites as it is ingrained in human culture to take from those who are different and whose ways one does not understand.

An overall excellent novel, the only reason I'm giving it a 4 out of 5 star is because it is grim reading, which made me long for a bit of Larry McMurtry's ability to balance grim reality with the humor in life. Also, I found the presentation of the three differing narratives perplexing. The Eli and Peter chapters are told in first person, while Jeannie's are told in third (which may be to show her struggle for "voice"). Eli's chapters are originally presented as the result of an interview done at the end of his life, but do not read as an interview. Peter's chapters are told in the form of a diary, which reads like no diary ever kept by anyone in human existence. Instead, they read just like novel narrative, continuing for pages with exact dialogue and lengthy descriptions with little to designate them as diary entries other than the occasional insertion of a date. These conventions, the interview and the diary, seemed unnecessary and were at times off-putting.

There was little to differentiate the voices of Eli, Peter, and Jeannie, but maybe that's the point--that theirs is the voice of history relating a story that will be told time and time again with no one learning its lessons.

Cross posted at This Insignificant Cinder and at Shelf Inflicted
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,411 followers
March 21, 2017
This is a big summer blockbuster of a novel—a huge book that can keep one occupied for days. The world looks a little different after a session with it—we feel wonder and regret in equal shares: wonder at human diversity and commonality evident at the same time; regret at our inability to comprehend this and share our bounty until it is too late.

Three generations of Texans represented by Eli, Peter, and Jeanne struggle through Comanche raids and the discovery of oil from the mid-nineteenth through the twentieth centuries. Eli is the "son" about whom the others revolve, and his life is the most finely described and keenly felt. But the time and distance we readers enjoy as the generations play out is what brings the book to fruition: life lessons and realizations about the human condition result.

Comparisons have been made of Philipp Meyer with Cormac McCarthy and I can see why: the country is that same hard, brutal, violent landscape that McCarthy paints so memorably. Meyer has his own style, however. Sentences are longer and in this novel the timeline is far longer. He shifts point of view and time frequently, and he writes in the voice of a woman—an unusual woman who often thinks like a man, it could be argued—but that is something I don’t recall McCarthy attempting.

The threads come together at the end, and we see who sired whom, and which family is still standing. What is remarkable as the story unfolds, is how the large scope of the story smooths out the individual agonies and gives us instead a kind of justice—what we like to call divine justice—but it is really no more than human history to date. If it went on a little longer, perhaps, the wheel would have turned once again. There may be some in the future who have actually learned from our past, but judging from the folks that survive in this book, the hope is a faint one.
Jeanne : "But the slackening. By five she and her brothers were throwing loops. By ten she was at the branding fire. Her grandchildren were not good at anything and did not have much interest in anything either. She wondered if the Colonel would even recognize them as his descendants, felt briefly defensive for them, but of course it was true. Something was happening to the human race.

That is what all old people think, she decided…

When the first men arrived, she told them, there were mammoths, giant buffalo, giant horses, saber-toothed tigers, and giant bears. The American cheetah—the only animal on earth that could outrun a pronghorn antelope.

Her grandsons … went inside to watch television."

Jeanne: "Of course you wanted your children to have it better than you had. But at what point was it not better at all? People needed something to worry about or they would destroy themselves, and she thought of her grandchildren and all the grandchildren yet to come."

Eli: "That I’d done wrong was plain. I was not thick enough to believe I might have saved the ponies from Ranald Mackenzie’s troopers, but you could never say for certain. A single man can make a difference."

Eli: "Toshaway had been right: you had to love others more than you loved your own body, otherwise you would be destroyed, whether from the inside or out, it didn’t matter. You could butcher and pillage, but as long as you did it for people you loved, it never mattered…there is a myth about the West, that it was founded and ruled by loners, while the truth is just the opposite; the loner is a mental weakling, and was seen as such, and treated with suspicion. You did not live long without someone watching your back and there were very few people, white or Indian, who did not see a stranger in the night and invite him to join the campfire."

Peter: "To listen to the three of them talk about the death of Dutch Hollis, you might have thought there had been some accident, a lightning strike, flash flood, the hand of God. Not my son’s. Had to do it, acted on instinct, the sheriff just nodding away, sipping our whiskey, my father refilling his glass.

Considered interrupting them to note that the entire history of humanity is marked by a single inexorable movement—from animal instinct toward rational thought, from inborn behavior toward acquired knowledge. A half-grown panther abandoned in the wilderness will grow up to be a perfectly normal panther. But a half-grown child similarly abandoned will grow up into an unrecognizable savage, unfit for normal society. Yet there are those who insist the opposite: that we are creatures of instinct, like wolves."

Philipp Meyer is a remarkable writer. You really do not want to miss this big, absorbing saga. Meyer has written another novel, American Rust, which was likewise memorable, about living in the Rust Belt in Pennsylvania. These are, for the most part, books about men. But that is fine—he does this with great skill. I think I will always have Meyer on my list of must-reads.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,888 reviews218 followers
March 24, 2020
“You could butcher and pillage but as long as you did it for people you loved, it never mattered. You did not see any Comanches with the long stare—there was nothing they did that was not to protect their friends, their families, or their band. The war sickness was a disease of the white man, who fought in armies far from his home, for men he didn’t know, and there is a myth about the West, that it was founded and ruled by loners, while the truth is just the opposite; the loner is a mental weakling, and was seen as such, and treated with suspicion. You did not live long without someone watching your back and there were very few people, white or Indian, who did not see a stranger in the night and invite him to join the campfire.” – Philipp Meyer, The Son

Epic saga of the American southwest, focusing on a Texas family from the 1830’s to the 1980’s. Eli is the patriarch of the McCullough family. At thirteen, he is kidnapped by the Comanche and learns their ways. He eventually makes his way back to white society, and becomes a state ranger, a cattle rancher, and an early oil driller. Peter is Eli’s son. He is traumatized by a brutal feud with the neighboring Garcia family and feels out of step with the rest of his relatives. Jeanne Anne is Peter’s granddaughter. She is the heir to the McCullough fortune, an iron-willed woman attempting to gain respect in a male-dominated oil industry. Her life is filled with tragedy.

The three narrators’ stories are told in rotating sequence. As is typical in stories with multiple voices, some are more appealing than others. Eli’s coming-of-age with the Comanche is particularly well-crafted and compelling. Meyer vividly describes buffalo hunts, tribal rituals, and raiding parties, not sparing any gruesome details of the carnage. Peter’s journal becomes the voice of conscience for his family’s violence and corruption. Jeanne Anne’s segments are less captivating. She is necessary to bridge the gap between the previous generations and modern society, but her chapters are mostly bleak. It would have been nice to find bit more human compassion in the story.

This is a character-driven novel and I am impressed by Meyer’s ability to expertly weave the three storylines together, each elucidating the others. Themes include abuse of power, injustice, greed, entitlement, discrimination, and cross-cultural relationships. This is a book that dissects the legend of the rugged “American West” and exposes its ugly foundations. While I did not enjoy it quite as much as his debut, American Rust, it came very close.
Profile Image for reading is my hustle.
1,482 reviews291 followers
February 23, 2014
Edit :: 02/20/14

After some consideration I have decided to link you to Will's review instead of writing my own. As is often the case, his review hits it out of the park.

This book. EPIC. I disappeared for a few days while reading it! I was late picking up a child. I passed on a night out with a friend. I kept my eyes down whilst walking my dog.

Real life?
So. Intrusive.

That's all I've got for now.

Profile Image for Paula K .
417 reviews424 followers
March 25, 2017
A beautifully written family saga I listened to via audiobook. Set in Texas and seen through the eyes of three generations, this story about the rise of Texas and the early frontier in America is a not-to-miss book. My favorite character was Eli McCullough. Starting with his capture at 13 years old by the Comanches, and bringing him through to his old age. What a larger-than-life character.

A definite 5 stars!

Profile Image for FotisK.
355 reviews157 followers
August 8, 2019
Συμπαθες καλοκαιρινό ανάγνωσμα. Τρεις ιστορίες, τριών προσώπων και μέσω αυτών το χρονικό της κατάκτησης της Δύσης ή έστω του Τέξας.
Διαβάζεται γρήγορα, αν και θα προτιμούσα να έλειπαν καμιά 200ριά σελίδες. Καμία σχέση με τον γίγαντα Μακάρθι, βεβαίως.
Όσον αφο��ά την αμιγώς λογοτεχνική αξία του, ασήμαντη. Όχι πως ανέμενα κάτι διαφορετικό.
Profile Image for João Carlos.
646 reviews273 followers
April 8, 2017

The Son - Dez episódios com Pierce Brosnan (Eli McCullough) - Estreia em Portugal a 30 de Abril 2017



(Picture: Ian Dodds)

“Ferrugem Americana” (2011), primeiro romance do escritor norte-americano Philipp Meyer (n. 1974), foi um dos melhores livros que li em 2013. Uma história que se desenvolve num cenário americano de desintegração económica e social, percorrido por uma galeria de personagens verdadeiramente inesquecíveis; num “policial” negro, magistral, entre o amor e o desespero.
“O Filho” (2013), segundo romance de Philipp Meyer, é uma saga familiar que se desenrola no Oeste americano entre 1836 e 2012. Um relato de várias gerações de uma família ancestral, nos cenários épicos do Texas, delimitados por uma imensidão desértica, por desfiladeiros e rios selvagens, polvilhados por uma vegetação densa e rasteira, onde deambulam homens e mulheres “imperfeitas”, bisontes e cavalos selvagens, brancos, índios e mexicanos; comboys, tratadores de gado e prospectores de petróleo, e onde as personagens não apresentam princípios morais ou escrúpulos, nas suas acções ou nos seus comportamentos.
A estrutura narrativa do livro desenvolve-se em capítulos alternados, em diferentes períodos temporais e narrada pelo - Coronel Eli McCullough, mais tarde Eli/Tiehteti, por Jeanne Anne McCullough ou J. A. McCullough ou Jeannie, os diários de Peter McCullough e no final por Ulisses Garcia – e em que temos o apoio da árvore genealógica da família McCullough.
Mais importante do que escrever sobre as inúmeras personagens de “O Filho”, o que é relevante é referenciar as memórias de uma família, ora unida ora desunida, e as múltiplas ligações estabelecidas entre homens e mulheres, com vidas suspensas por ressentimentos furiosos e sonhos desfeitos, e que vão evoluindo ao longo da narrativa, alternando momentos de normalidade e de excentricidade, num misto de tristeza ou de alegria.
O poder das relações físicas e mentais de todas as personagens, muitas vezes assentes no companheirismo e na solidão, são determinantes, mas por vezes apresentam um grau de violência atroz, com comportamentos obscuros e, aparentemente, inexplicáveis, e que vão evoluindo entre sentimentos de culpa ou de remorsos.
“O Filho” é um livro brilhante, no estilo de Cormac McCarthy, sobre várias gerações da família McCullough num Oeste selvagem…
Profile Image for Erasmia Kritikou.
264 reviews89 followers
January 17, 2021
Ζωντανή γραφή, δυνατός συγγραφέας.
Προσοχή, σκληρές σκηνές, απομακρύνετε τα παιδιά απ το ανάγνωσμα
Profile Image for Tj.
205 reviews8 followers
December 10, 2013
Well, I finished. I read it through to the end. I have to apologize to my friend Diane for giving her the bad advice to snap up the ARC of this that we saw at a book event (because I had already snapped up my ARC at a previous event). This novel has had so much buzz! I listened to and read so many, many positive reviews and I can say that for the most part, I can understand all the buzz. This novel is epic. The subject matter is very interesting (the settlement of Texas) and there were two characters that I found sympathetic. But it's a dude book. Again, I picked a dude book. Not just because it is astonishingly vulgar but this author doesn't have a good sense of what it's like to be a woman. I have new appreciation for male authors that can inhabit their female characters. The characters and their relation to each other was so confusing. If I had a dollar for every time I had to page to the front to double-check the family tree I'd be wearing Louboutins right now.
Profile Image for Lisa.
1,462 reviews560 followers
September 7, 2020
The Son is a ruthless, involving account of a Texas family whose empire was gained through violence, exploitation and luck. Covering several generations, this novel is a mini-history of the American West. The focus is on three McCulloughs: Eli, born 1836, Pete, born 1870 and Jeanne born 1926. All of them are forced to make immoral choices to keep their empire. Of the three, I found Pete, who struggled with his family's brutal legacy, the most interesting.
Profile Image for JanB .
1,143 reviews2,486 followers
March 25, 2017
3.5 stars, rounded up

I'm not going to go into the plot of this 4 generation saga since many before me have done a better job than I could hope to do, plus the GR synopsis tells you all you need to know. I listened to the audiobook and Will Patton and Kate Mulgrew were phenomenal. They definitely increased my enjoyment of the story. And what a story it is.

After a very strong start, I thought it would easily be a 5 star read, but the middle felt a little bloated and my interest flagged a bit. Not uncommon for a book that is 600 pages long and nearly 18 hours of listening time. I would still highly recommend the book.

I'm looking forward to the AMC series starting April 8, starring Pierce Brosnan as Eli McCullough. Eli is definitely the star of the book - but not likable - and it will be interesting to see how Brosnan interprets the character.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,532 followers
September 8, 2021

I nearly gave this book 5 stars, but despite loving the description of Eli's three years as a captured Comanche and his life in the tribe, I was disappointed by his lack of spiritual evolution later in life. The story is layered with the narratives of Eli in the 1870s, his grandson, Peter in the 1910x, and his great-granddaughter in the 2000s. The family fortune is built by Eli following his return from exile with the Indians and tours as a Ranger killing Indians and a Confederate soldier killing more Indians and Union soldiers to make some key purchases of land for raising cattle. During Peter's lifetime, the search for oil obsesses the family and leads to tragic conflict with their Mexican neighbors. During Jeannine's pampered life, the McCoullogh family having become fabulously wealthy thanks to the oil business sees the male line dying out in her family and her own grasp of the business matters slipping. There is a small twist at the end, but I'll leave that for you to discover. I thought that the Eli and Peter storylines were strong (again despite the lack of evolution in Eli), but the Jeannine one was a little weaker. It is still a strong and compelling book that narrowly lost the Pulitzer to The Goldfinch, perhaps deservedly so, in 2014. Nonetheless, if you like stories such as Lonesome Dove or All the Pretty Horses, you will probably enjoy this one a lot.
Profile Image for switterbug (Betsey).
828 reviews760 followers
June 17, 2013
Epic, savage, surly, and brimming with ideas, Philipp Meyer's sweeping historical tale of Texas demands shelf space with Cormac McCarthy and Larry McMurty. Like his predecessors, Meyer illustrates the ruthless, violent forms of blood-spilling murder it takes to build the future of a land. Death begets life.

People are conditioned to believe in their rights of land possession, and history point fingers at those who stole land from those that used to occupy it. Wars are fought over territory, and arguments continue on the authority of the privileged. But, as Meyer blazingly illuminates, the rights of possession were stolen from others, who scalped it from others, who poached it from others...

"...he thought only of the Texans who had stolen it from his people. And the Indians from whom his people had stolen it had themselves stolen it from other Indians."

"The Americans...They thought that simply because they had stolen something, no one should be allowed to steal it from them."

Told from the perspective of three narrators representing three generations of the Texas cattle baron and then oil baron McCullough family, and spanning the 19th-21st century, the tale takes the reader on a ferocious adventure of the birth and expansion of the Texas frontier. The legacies of fathers to sons (and one narrator, a daughter) are tough and soul scorching. The prose is as muscular and sinewy as a prized thoroughbred, the story as pitiless as a rattlesnake in a desert. And yet, there's an undulating tenderness, a tremendous amount of empathy that is elicited from the reader.

"A man, a life--it was barely worth mentioning. The Visigoths had destroyed the Romans, and themselves been destroyed by the Muslims. Who were destroyed by the Spanish and Portugese. You did not need Hitler to see that it was not a pleasant story...The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were."
Profile Image for Rebecca.
3,602 reviews2,569 followers
January 30, 2016
(4.5) Meyer’s sweeping Western saga about one Texas family – ranging from the 1840s to the present day – brims with violence and philosophical tension. Like Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, The Son is a gory Western that transcends the simplistic cowboys-versus-Indians dichotomy to draw broader conclusions about the universality of brutality in a nihilistic world. Encompassing every American conflict from the Civil War through to Iraq, it presents a cycle of warfare that’s as old as the fossils and arrowheads buried in the Texan soil.

This momentous American story ranks among the best novels of the new century.

(See my full review at The Bookbag.)
Profile Image for piperitapitta.
950 reviews332 followers
April 10, 2018

Che si tratti di un romanzo epico lo si intuisce sin dall'incipit, da quel «Mi hanno profetizzato che sarei vissuto fino a cent'anni e siccome li ho compiuti non vedo perché dovrei dubitarne. Non morirò cristiano, ma il mio scalpo è intatto e se esiste un terreno di caccia eterno, lì sono diretto» che si annuncia leggendario e indimenticabile.
E se penso a un romanzo epico, al "grande romanzo americano", definizione che ho visto più volte accostata a questo romanzo, per associazione di idee, penso a «La valle dell'Eden».


Ecco, non penso di fare un dispetto a Meyer se dico che il primo grande romanzo americano, veramente epico, al quale mi ha fatto pensare «Il Figlio» è proprio «La Valle dell'Eden».
Il paragone finisce qui, per forza di cose, vista l'incapacità, da parte mia, di proseguire con quella che dovrebbe essere un'analisi critica comparata, anche se alcune similitudini - non ultime l'epopea generazionale che sia Steinbeck che Meyer scelgono di narrare, attraverso le quali narrare i mutamenti sociali che portano, come le tessere di un mosaico, alla formazione del Nuovo Mondo, e quel senso biblico, a volte impercettibile ma sempre presente, che permea le pagine del romanzo - mi fanno credere, al di là del valore oggettivo delle due opere ("La Valle dell'Eden è sicuramente un capolavoro), di non aver osato troppo nel cercare di intuire (e forse cogliere) le intenzioni dell'autore.

(continua - primo esperimento di commento a puntate)

Debole nei dialoghi (per parlare subito di quello che, a mio parere, forse è l'unico vero difetto), forse spesso troppo banali e didascalici, «Il Figlio» è un romanzo che cattura sin dalle prime pagine in maniera prepotente e avvincente; persino chi, come me, non pensava di appassionarsi a un romanzo che narra una storia "di frontiera". (E così mi affretto a recuperare «Butcher's Crossing» e la trilogia di McCarthy)
La struttura a più voci, che alterna tre generazioni di McCullough, proprietari di uno sterminato ranch nei pressi del confine messicano, attraverso uno spazio temporale che va dall'Ottocento fino al secolo scorso, costruisce la storia di questo romanzo grazie a un continuo susseguirsi di eventi che vanno avanti e indietro nel tempo, e contribuisce a mantenerla sempre viva, vibrante, evocativa, romantica e appassionata.
Il Texas occidentale, dunque, terra di frontiera.
Terra di bisonti e di Comanche, di ranger e di anglo, di tejanos e di messicani, di scalpi e di stupri, teatro di guerra di Secessione e guerra con il Messico.
E poi il Texas del petrolio.
Terra di pozzi e ricchezza improvvisa, terra brutalizzata e snaturata, terra in cui alle mandrie e ai vaqueros si sostituiscono squadre di operai e giochi di potere.
Il Texas, la terra dello Spindletop e de Il Gigante, film e romanzo che fanno capolino, fra le righe, in un nemmeno troppo velato omaggio all'autrice Edna Ferber.
Infine il Texas degli uomini, tejanos, appunto, ma anche di forti contrapposizioni culturali, sociali, naturali.
Messicani contro anglo, anglo contro tejanos, i Comanche contro tutti. E tutti e tutto contro i Comanche.
E poi i fiumi, le praterie, i cavalli selvatici, la linfa dei pioppi, una natura selvaggia ma amica, una natura fonte di ricchezze e di vita, ma anche di morte.

(continua - domani l'ultima puntata)


E poi i McCullough.
Il capostipite, il Colonnello: prima Eli, poi Tiehteti, prima anglo, poi Comanche, poi…
Personaggio enigmatico, affascinante e brutale.
Peter, figlio di Eli, il mio preferito: sognatore, romantico, uomo nel senso vero del termine, l'unico attraversato da un senso di giustizia universale, che prevarica ogni senso di appartenenza a ogni razza, a ogni tribù, a ogni famiglia.
E infine Jeanne, nipote di Peter, la donna del futuro che si fa largo in una terra e in un mondo di uomini.
Quindi, una storia di uomini, e di donne, ma soprattutto la storia di una terra conquistata, combattuta, sfruttata e disputata.
E infine il figlio, del quale non dirò nulla.


Profile Image for Laura.
822 reviews243 followers
April 29, 2019
Update: season 2 started yesterday April 27th, 2019 the series is on AMC starring Pierce Brosnan.

I loved this book immediately. The characters pull you in and keep you interested from beginning to end. Thankful that the author included the family tree, I frequently reminded myself who was who. Highly recommend this read!
Profile Image for Cosimo.
415 reviews
November 12, 2015
“Mi hanno profetizzato che sarei vissuto fino a cent'anni e siccome li ho compiuti non vedo perché dovrei dubitarne. Non morirò da cristiano, ma il mio scalpo è intatto e se esiste un terreno di caccia eterno, lì sono diretto”.

Nella solitudine della frontiera, la memoria è una maledizione, un'inesauribile disgrazia, nella quale la storia individuale e collettiva somiglia a un nero abisso, a un paesaggio desolato dove l'essere umano si perde ineluttabilmente. Nelle praterie del Texas, tra i pascoli, le terre e i cavalli, le famiglie vengono sterminate, la sopravvivenza degenera in sopraffazione; Meyer scrive una saga familiare sul coraggio, un'epopea di popoli, materie e natura che narra quanto il potere sia marcato dalla sofferenza e esplora le ragioni storiche del declino della società americana, moralmente contaminata dal demone della grandezza e della ricchezza, mentre le tracce dell'identità spariscono nel vento. Là dove erano possibili il sogno e l'ideale, si trova oggi il deserto dell'egoismo, del profitto e della violenza. I protagonisti del romanzo sono come orfani e rinnegati, nel corpo hanno un fuoco rabbioso, una riserva di tristezza; nella consuetudine con gli spazi aperti e le pianure sconfinate, con il cielo da cavalcare, sono convinti dell'eternità, ma incontrano l'amoralità della volontà, la sagoma oscura del male e nel mistero si rivelano incapaci di salvarsi da se stessi, perché “se segui le tue orme abbastanza a lungo, si trasformeranno in quelle di una bestia”. Il legame reciproco e indissolubile fra persecutori e vittime si materializza nel ricorrere storico degli eventi: guerre di confine, scontri armati, incursioni, assassinii, famiglie trucidate, stupri, rapimenti e torture mostrano che la crudeltà e la brutalità hanno una forma antica e necessaria e sono testimonianza di leggi arcaiche. Tutte le tribù discendono dai prigionieri: indiani, messicani, tejanos. Romanzo western, storico e genealogico, abitato da una lingua complessa e meticcia, con inserti di comanche e spagnolo, è la storia scritta di un'epoca perduta, di un intreccio di destini che si esprime in un'epica negativa, che dissolve il mito dell'Ovest: terre, bestiame, armi, donne, tutto si ottiene strappandolo ad altri. Dalle mandrie ai giacimenti, le voci di tre personaggi della famiglia McCullough, il patriarca, il figlio e la pronipote, legate dal nero del petrolio e dal profumo della linfa dei pioppi, si alternano sulla scena raccontando la propria vita e la fragile storia di una dinastia capitalista, destinata a scomparire nel sangue e nella polvere, come già accaduto all'esistenza sacra e selvaggia dei nativi americani. Quei comanche che precipitano oltre i confini del mondo, in un canto di morte impietoso, in un'estinzione crudele e innaturale che rievoca il suono delle nostre più profonde paure.

“Mi sono sempre chiesto dove fosse l’anima, se vicino al cuore o magari attaccata alle ossa, ho sempre immaginato che per trovarla bisognasse tagliare. Ma quelli hanno tagliato da tutte le parti e non ho visto niente. Sono certo che l’avrei vista”.
Profile Image for Ed.
584 reviews71 followers
July 2, 2013
This is one of those books that didn't bear the weight of my expectations. Philipp Meyer's The Son certainly has been getting a lot of buzz -- recently named #2 book in Amazon's half-year review/best books of the year (so far) -- but it just seemed to fall short for me in many areas.

It is a multi-generational saga, "epic" for sure but never quite feeling "sweeping" or grand. I thought it started off gangbusters with great potential in the exploration of three eras in Texas history (settlement/Indians, cattle/Mexican border, oil), but it just never seemed to all come together at once (one storyline gets going at the expense of another).

While educational, eye-opening (caveat: there's quite a bit of squirm-in-your-seat violence), and interesting, I still never felt fully engaged/immersed. The connections / ties / legacy between the generations seemed to either be non-existent or a bit forced (the latter, particularly towards the end with an addition -- will just leave it at that, since it is sort of a spoiler-y detail).

And finally, and certainly no fault of Meyer's (and returning to those above-mentioned expectations), I could not "un-read" the comparisons to James Michener and Cormac McCarthy. I should know better by now that these tend to be tossed around: It's epic, so it's Michener. It's violent, so it's McCarthy. And honestly, I wish this novel was more of either of those two authors.

So, a whole lot of good ingredients that ultimately just did not come together in a totally satisfying final dish. But despite what seems to be some clear criticisms above, I was left with an overwhelming hazy feeling of a missed connection -- characters and stories that seemed to be held an arm's length away and wished I could have "felt" more.
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