“The Son” is a generational-western epic written by Philipp Meyer and released in 2013.
Despite being raised in an ultra-southern family, forced to watch “Lonesome Dove” a hundred times over and working at an old country auction house for six years, I have to say that I am not a fan of westerns. That said, this novel broke a barrier for me. “The Son” is about many things, possibly the most obvious being the birth and evolution of a legend. It is long, intricately complex, violent, graphic and incredibly blunt. Philipp Meyer himself said that his inspiration was to analyze the “creation myth of America.”
“The Son” contains three protagonists:
Eli McCullough – The lone ranger. He is the legend that carries the McCullough name. Sprouting from a life of abduction, apathetic killings and living life on both sides (Indian and Colonialist), Eli builds his family’s empire from the ground up with relentless force.
Peter McCullough – The intellectual, the compromiser. Peter is one of Eli’s sons. As he grows up and takes on a more meaningful role in the family business, not to mention romance with an enemy family’s daughter, his head clashes constantly with his brother, Phineas, and with Eli. Eli sees something in Peter that he would never lose again though: Eli’s brother, Martin.
Jeanne Anne McCullough: The lone woman. J.A., as she is often called, is Peter’s granddaughter. She is essentially the female, post-industrial incarnation of Eli. And it severely limits her. Heir to the fortune and the business, J.A. has to overcome the world’s view of women in society while not being arrested or institutionalized for it.
This novel reigns over the course of the 1830’s to 2012. It is rich in history of the Texas frontier and beyond, sometimes calling attention to famous events or other legends of the state.
In the beginning, I did not think I was going to enjoy the novel. They live in a small house in the middle of nowhere. Indians are about. They’ll probably fight them. And for the first fifty or so pages, that is exactly what’s going on, but I was carried through it by the pure nature of the violence Meyer was having me read. I was disgusted, but glad that someone would be so brutally honest with how Indian/Colonial interactions could often go. Once introductions are over and the set up of each character’s plot is in place, the novel really starts to breathe a life of it’s own.
The novel alternates characters with every chapter. I think the choice to have three, rather than some ridiculous number like “Game of Thrones,” was a good move. I found that all three protagonists remained interesting throughout, so I was never disappointed to be reading someone’s section. All three protagonists are incredibly unique despite being related and I can promise that J.A. is not female just for the sake of having a female character. Yes, she is very much like Eli, but she completely owns her womanhood.
I can’t easily say what the main plot of “The Son” is. It is maintained by dozens and dozens of subplots. It contains the entire life of these three characters in vivid detail. It shows the story of survival in many cases, but not all. Much of the novel revolves around maintaining and building upon the family empire. I think that people can read it through many different viewpoints.
If you’re an English major or if you ever just happen to find yourself in one of Dr. Gwyn’s classes, then it’s a safe bet to say that you might be reading this one. He has claimed it as the best novel of the 21st century, the best since “All the Pretty Horses” by Cormac McCarthy came out in 1992.
If this book interests you, buy it! You can find it on most major bookseller websites such as Amazon and B&N.