Review: The Son

Title: The Son Image

Author: Philipp Meyer

Rating: ★★★★

Provided Synopsis: 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.

Review: I never thought that I would enjoy a book about Texas, but there is something about this story that compels you to keep turning the pages. Philipp Meyer is a wonderful storyteller with a gift of making his characters and his settings come alive. From the moment the Comanche raid, burn, kill and then kidnap Eli McCullough I was transfixed upon this story. The way that it delves into Eli’s immersion into Comanche tribes and customs was fascinating and so well done. Part of me wished that the story had only focused upon that storyline simply because I could never get enough of it.

But then something very interesting happened: then I became transfixed upon another character. Peter McCullough is Eli’s son, and the novel also includes his journal entries. Through this narrative technique the reader is able to see how Eli’s actions have shaped the family and the way they think about wealth. Peter constantly feels guilt for the actions that his family (led by his father) takes in terms of keeping wealth, land, and power in Texas. Eli teaches the McCulloughs to have their own interpretation of justice as long as it comes to benefit them — an ideal he learns from his times with the Indians. The times were brutal and Meyer never shies away from showing how cruel people could be to their neighbors and kin.

On the other spectrum, we are given a third storyline from the perspective of Peter’s granddaughter. She spent her early years being in awe of Eli, which has caused her to be the continuation of his legacy and ideals of doing all that you can to maintain the family’s wealth. Unlike Peter, she feels no guilt over the lengths that the family will travel to; instead, she seems to be an empty shell of a person that knows nothing other than to feel a constant want to wield power.

I would recommend everyone to give this novel a try. You may think that it is not something that would spark your interest, but I believe that you will wind up being surprised by how immersed you become in the story.


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