The Lone Star Lit Roundup: The Son

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August 3, 2014 by carlywont

Hi y’all. I’m back from my baby hiatus! Yeah! Still, my days are filled with baby talk and my nights are filled with only a precious few hours of sleep, so forgive me if my writing is both incoherent and juvenile.

Appropriately, my first post after giving birth to my own little cowboy is on THE SON by Philipp Meyer (no relation to Twilight’s Stephenie Meyer that I could find, though I still like to imagine that Thanksgiving dinner).

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I’m not sure about where you live, but here in Austin, The Son seemed to get a lot of press. It was at the forefront of every bookstore in town and for good reason! The author was a Michener fellow at UT, the book is about Texas, and it was a Pulitzer Prize finalist to boot. *Swoon*

Before I decided to do this Lone Star Lit Roundup, I was kind of resistant to The Son. Firstly, it’s long. Secondly, it has horses on the cover. Thirdly, there’s a family tree in the front content. Fourthly, did I mention it’s about Texas? In my world, those are four major strikes against a book.  My mom actually read this first (she can’t resist a good Comanche story, so once she read the back cover copy at Book People, she had to have it) and if you knew how little my mom reads relative to both me and the world at large, you’d be impressed by my saying that she absolutely loved it.

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(^Quanah Parker, one of the last Comanche chiefs and my mom’s #1 love interest)

I now know why. I was completely hooked from the beginning of the book and really loved reading every page, despite its many faults. The book is a sweeping, multi-generational saga told from three different perspectives over the course of about a hundred years. The narrators are from the McCullough family: Eli—the patriarch and topic of much local and familial lore; Peter—the shamed son of Eli; and J.A.—the granddaughter of Eli and last family member to hold on to the McCullough compound.

The use of three narrators not only gives us a longitudinal view of the McCullough history, it also allows the reader to see the many transitions of Texas. With Eli, we see the transformation of Texas from wild, Comanche territory to white-dominated cattle country. With Peter comes the transition from cattle to oil, and with J.A. we see the Texas oil boom and its many societal ramifications. Another bonus to splitting the book into three narrative sections? It goes by quickly! I’m a sucker for split storytelling.

My favorite thing about the book was Meyer’s intertwining of the McCullough history with the Garcias’, another big family with long ties to the region. The rise of the McCulloughs coincides with the fall of the Garcias (not-so-coincidentally), and Meyer’s exploration of the two family histories reveals the racist legacy of Texas culture, beginning with the ousting of the Comanches.

The introduction of the Garcia narrator at the very end of the book was an interesting choice by Meyer. It seemed a little sudden and out of place. Instead of springing him on us at the end, I actually wish Meyer had included a Garcia narrator throughout the book, making the families’ two stories even more connected for the reader.

The major (and I’m talkin’ major) weak point of the book was J.A.’s narrative. Her chapters were lacking. Not only was her personality not nearly as developed as the men in the story, there was also just a lot more boring exposition.  At times, I felt she was used as a sort of epilogue storytelling tool rather than an actual character in her own right. Meyer needed to tie up some loose ends and bring the McCullough family into more modern times and he used J.A. for this. It’s really too bad that Meyer couldn’t get it together in J.A.’s sections since her timeline followed the Texas oil boom, a fascinating subject IMO.

There’s no denying that Eli’s chapters were the best. I mean, getting kidnapped by the Comanches and then becoming a full-fledged member of the tribe throughout the years? That’s some storytelling gold right there.

Overall, I would unreservedly recommend Philipp Meyer’s The Son. The subject is vast, the storytelling is great, and the pages go quickly.

PS: Did you know that there were lions and cheetahs endemic to America? Who knew? Thanks, Philipp Meyer!

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