I saw this while browsing on Audible and it looked quite interesting and (!) it was narrated by Will Patton! So I put it on ye olde wish list and there it sat for quite a long time – several months at least. When I saw something else about it somewhere, maybe that it had been developed into a television series, I thought “Hmmmm…” And then, while it was on my official wish list it turned upon the “available” list at my library. Okay fine – got it.
I had looked into the blurbs and reviews a wee bit, avoiding spoilers, but I knew it was a historical novel, a family saga type thing, taking place in Texas between the 1840s and contemporary times. It sounded like something Cormac McCarthy might write, but really the resonances go back to Faulklner and include might Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove in a way.
by Philipp Meyer
2013 / 576 pages
read by Will Patton Kate Milligrew, Scott Shepherd, Clifton Collins Jr.
rating – 9.75 – historical fiction
But The Son has it’s own plot and Meyer has his own style, so the book grew on me to the point I came darn near giving it a 10 on the first reading. For a relatively new book that’s almost unheard of. So YES! it’s worth reading!
As a whole, the narrative mainly consists of three 1st person accounts by members of the McCullough family over the course of 160 years or so.
The first narrative is told by Eli McCullough for an interview with the WPA on the occasion of his 100th birthday – 1936. So, born shortly after the Republic of Texas was born, along came Eli, “the first male child of this new republic.” His story tells of how as at the age of 6 or so, he was captured by Comanches after a destructive raid on his family’s ranch. He lived with them until well into his teens. Eli’s sections in the novel are interspersed with those of his granddaughter, Jeannie McCullough, in today’s time and Pete, Eli’s son of the in-between years. This is not chronological – it’s for the reader to put the pieces together.
The seeming constant warfare between the years of settlement and the oil boom has long-lasting repercussions on members of the McCullough family. The diary-based narrative of Peter, Eli’s son, is filled with guilt for various things and he can’t seem to let go of his family’s expectations or his own desires.
Following that, chronologically, comes the third thread which has Jeannie MccCulloch, Pete’s granddaughter, remembering her life from the vantage point of her living room floor at age 86. The year is 2012 and she now has quite a lot of money and power (not a spoiler), but is a very lonely woman and it feels like she’s readying herself to die. The organization is different from any family saga I remember reading.
This is the story of a wealthy Texas family from its origins in big cattle ranching operations and before all the way to big oil companies and all that comes after -through the generations. An overarching theme is much broader than that history and has to do with the complex relationships between cultures as well as identify, love, hate, fathers and, of course, sons.
The novel goes back and forth through these times and generations so we get an overview of the general history as the story line puts the family history together. And because Meyer delves into details about the Comanches I’ve not read elsewhere it feels totally authentic and original in those sections. (I’ve enjoyed several books about the Comanches – fiction and non-). Historically the other sections are accurate, but not nearly as detailed.
The strength of the novel lies in the historical detail as well as the trajectory of the chronology. I could go on but truth is I feel like downloading the Kindle version and having another go.