Philipp Meyer’s The Son is one of those books that instantly clicked with me. It happens sometimes that the perfect-for-you book comes along at just the right moment, a book that intrigues you from the first page right on through the last one (and there are 561 pages in The Son, so that is really saying something). I am not naïve enough to believe that everyone will have the same reaction to The Son that I had, but at this point it is my favorite novel of the first half of 2013.
This is the story of seven generations of the McCulloughs, a Texas family whose third generation was sired by Eli McCullough who claims to have been the first Anglo male child born in the Republic of Texas (March 1836). But, unlike so many family sagas, this one is not told in a linear, let’s follow the family tree right down the line, kind of way. Rather, Meyer lets three generations of the McCullough family carry the brunt of the action: Eli (second generation), Peter (third generation), and Jeanne Anne (fifth generation). By alternating narrative chapters from his three main narrators, and having each of them fill in the backstories of other family members, Meyer makes it easy for the reader to follow this remarkable family’s entire 200-year saga.
Living in Texas during Eli’s generation was not for sissies, something Eli and the rest of his immediate family learn the hard way when a Comanche raiding party targets the McCullough family farm. For Eli, however, the raid will turn out to be one of those cases of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The years he spends with the tribe, his new family, prepare him for anything that Texas will be able to throw at him for the rest of his life.
But Peter McCullough, born in 1870, is not the typical Texan of his day, especially for a man fathered by Eli McCullough. Peter is the “sensitive” type, a man whom his father and two younger brothers see as strangely unwilling to defend the family interest in the long running border war between American and Mexican ranchers. His empathy for his Mexican counterparts is considered a weakness by even, if not especially, those closest to him.
The formidable Jeanne Anne (Peter’s granddaughter), already an old woman by the end of the twentieth century, brings the family into the modern era. Partly because she is somewhat of a feminist, but largely because there is no one else of her generation to do it, Jeanne Anne personally oversees the family’s enormous oil fortune at a time when women do not even think of attempting such a thing.
The Son has become a personal favorite of mine, a novel I am likely to read several times over the years. I cannot guarantee that it will work as well for you, of course, but this Philipp Meyer novel is certainly worth a look by all fans of good, literary historical fiction.
(Review Copy provided by Publisher)