Monday, May 5, 2014

Book Review - The Son

I have a few thumbnail book reviews to catch up on. Back in early April, I finished Philipp Meyer's second novel, The Son (Ecco/Harper Collins, 2013, 561 pages). I was a huge fan of his first (American Rust, noted here) when I read it back in 2009 (shortly before I began blogging), and thought it was one of the best books I read that year. This was every bit as good if not better, and had an epic scope that his first didn't.

This hefty novel is the story of the McCullough family, and is a tale woven across many generations, beginning in 1849 and ending not many years ago. It begins with the massacre of Eli McCullough's family when he was 13 years old, when Texas was a wild frontier fought over by Texans, Mexicans and various Native American tribes. Eli is carried off by the Comanches and is raised as one of their own. Eventually he breaks from the Comanches, marries, and becomes a cattle rancher. Over the following 150 years, we follow several more generations of McCulloughs as they climb from ranchers to cattle barons to oilmen, becoming some of the richest people in Texas.

The book does a good job of depicting both the romance and the brutality of life on the frontier, and how the history of the family shapes their futures. The narrative takes a little getting used to since the story is told primarily from the perspective of a handful a McCulloughs themselves (although there are a bunch of others thrown in for good measure), and is scattered across the years. It continually jumps back and forth in time, changing year with every switch in narrator. At any given point in the book, the narrator could be any of a handful of people, and the year could be anywhere in that 150 year range. The complete lack of linear progression in telling the story makes it a little confusing at first, but it soon becomes routine. One thing that did help following along was to have marked the page at the front that showed the McCullough family tree...

It is a meticulously constructed novel, and a rewarding read as more and more of the pieces fall into place as the story progresses. A really terrific book. 4.5 stars out of 5.

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