Monday, July 29, 2013

The Son

by Philipp Meyer, Ecco, May 2013

... a real Western without the romanticism of Louis L'Amour or Zane Grey

This is a novel of the American West set in Texas.  It follows one family - the McCullough’s - thru the history of the state.  The patriarch, Colonel Eli McCullough, was the first white child born in Texas in 1836. Eli lives for 100 years so he carries the story forward well into the twentieth century.   He is the larger than life character that dominates this story.  The other two storylines are interspersed between Eli’s narrative.  Eli’s  son Peter is a brooding intellectual type who lives through the pre WWI conflict with Mexico and is forever changed when his Mexican neighbors are massacred by his family.  Lastly Eli’s  great granddaughter Jeanne Anne is a talented woman trying to make her way in the male dominated world of big oil.    

This is really an epic saga about the settling and growth  of Texas.  Through Eli’s experiences we read of family massacres, Comanche Indians who kidnap and use white settlers,  Texas Rangers who enforce a frontier type of law.  Through Peter’s story we see the conflicts between the white Texans and the Hispanic settlers who were the original landowners in the area. All of the corruption that marks the relations between a victorious conqueror and the losing side  is here to behold.  Peter also tells the story of the movement from cattle ranching to oil drilling in the big ranches in Texas.  Jeanne Anne’s experiences show the grow of big oil in the state and the uphill battle a woman faced in being successful in this state.  

This story flies along and is filled with action.  I particularly liked the ending which was somewhat unexpected and definitely satisfying.  I was left with two impressions after reading it.  One if anyone wonders where the gun culture in the US comes from, read this story.  Almost from the first settlers in the West, the gun was used to ensure white superiority.  All disputes were settled with guns and loss of life was the norm not the exception and this story illustrates that in spades.  My second impression was that this story so close to truth was profoundly depressing and grim  in that the behavior of the white Texans to the Native Americans and the Mexicans was extremely brutal.  Probably not that much different from other conquering nations but depressing nonetheless.  The author does not sugarcoat any of it.  So if you want to read a real Western story with none of the romanticism of Louis L’Amour or Zane Grey read this.  Sure to be one of the best books of the year.

I read a copy of this novel provided by the publisher

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