Thursday, August 7, 2014

REVIEW: The Son by Phillip Meyer

The SonThe Son by Philipp Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Original Publication Year: 2013
Genre(s): Fiction
Series: None
Awards: Nominee for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (2014) and Paris Review Best of the Best
Format: Audio
Narrated By: Will Patton, Scott Shepherd, Kate Mulgrew, Jr. Collins Clifton

I totally dig westerns. I like the history, the idea of the frontier and if I’m honest the gritty violence, tawdriness and struggle for survival. It usually makes for fantastic and often epic storytelling. The Son delivers on all counts and then some, because it spans 150 years of a crazy Texas family.

It’s a triple narrative focused on three generations of the McCullough family. Eli McCullough, is a young teenager on the Texas Frontier in the 1850s when he is kidnapped by a band of Comanche. Peter McCullough is his middle aged son with a big case of “I don’t feel like I fit in here” in the still pretending to be the wild west Texas of the 1910s. Jeannie McCullough is Peter’s granddaughter who grows up on the family ranch to become a rare oil baroness in the Texas of the 1970s and 1980s.

There is lots of interesting story here and it all feels completely raw and real. With Eli, there is the demise of the American Indian civilization and the rise of the Europeans. Peter struggles in a world where Mexicans are the enemy and his family and compatriots still want to pretend that the west has not yet been won. Jeannie fights her way through a Texas being dragged, not wholly successfully into a modern America. With three separate stories interspersed there is the risk of one story overshadowing, making the reader want to skim through less interesting chapters but this did not happen at all to me. All of the time periods were fully realized and engrossing and it never stuck with any one story too long.

As great as the story is I am always really looking for interesting characters and Meyer outdoes himself on that front. I found none of the three McCulloughs terribly likeable but it’s impossible to hate them. They’re people, facing extraordinary circumstances in a culture that is quite frankly completely foreign from my own even though it takes place in the country I live in. I felt like I knew each of the narrators intimately and through them it became easy to feel the experiences that they each go through while still being puzzled by many of their choices. In other words, they’re recognizably human and complex. They’re foreigners and also closest kin.

Underlying all are themes of family and heritage as well as conquest and death. It’s a pretty heady brew that exercised my thoughtful brain cells while thoroughly entertaining those brain cells that get easily bored. Really, Phillip Meyer rocked with the pacing and yarn spinning.

The audio for this book is also spectacular, one of the best I’ve listened to. All the readers had great distinctive voices and their reading of the characters was perfect. I was a big fan of Kate Mulgrew on Star Trek and I can’t imagine another actress more perfect for Jeannie McCullough.

Final Verdict: It’s clich├ęd but this book should be pictured next to the definition of rich narrative. It will suck you in, frequently horrify* you and you will never ever be bored.

*This book is not for the squeamish. Especially in Eli’s story, there is some seriously brutal violence as well as some culinary arts that will not appeal to many.

If you've read this one I'd love to hear what you think!  Did you find the different narratives/characters equally interesting or did you have one that was a favorite?

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