by Philipp Meyer
An epic family saga spanning generations, The Son is the story of the McCulloughs and their survival as Texas moved from the Wild West into industrialized oil production. The tale begins with Eli, the patriarch who lived with the Comanche after they killed his parents in a raid. Eli learned their traditions and their ways, but by the time he was a young man the tribe was weakened by disease beyond recovery, so he returned to the white man’s world. As he amasses a fortune in land and cattle, the story shifts to his son Peter. Peter is overshadowed by the larger-than-life character and reputation of “The Colonel”, and he’s viewed as a disappointment by his family because he did not inherit his father’s rough-n-ready, ruthless approach to life. The soft-hearted man falls in love with a Mexican girl, to the horror of his family. A third narrator, the Colonel’s great-granddaughter Jeanne, inherited the McCullough patriarch’s toughness and has spent most of her life running the family oil and gas business.
Time and place shift with the start of each new chapter, as one narrator takes over from the previous speaker. Their voices are distinctive enough that you can pretty easily track which character is talking, but occasionally there’s a need to take a moment and recalibrate when and where you are.
Eli’s story is pretty darn entertaining. The old man was a Comanche warrior, a Texas Ranger, and an officer in the Confederate army. He’s the embodiment of the old West, and his chapters are a grand adventure story that can be brutal and graphic, but always fun to read. I found myself wishing that the entire book was written from his perspective, because the other two narrators are so pale and uninteresting by comparison. Compared to the force of nature that is his father, Peter’s quiet compassion seems quite weak and unmanly. His chapters trend toward whining at times. In Jeanne’s story, the family legacy soldiers on as she proves to be just as tenacious as her grandfather. I couldn’t quite get myself wrapped up in her story, though. Endless talk of business and dollars just can’t compare to the romance and excitement of soldiering and running with the Native Americans. Each time I would start to get immersed in a particular time and character, Meyer would switch narrators again, and the connection would be lost.
This book is sprawling. That’s the best word I think I have for it. It’s large in scale and heavy in the hand. But maybe I don’t like these big family sagas as much as I thought I would, because I was bored during many of Jeanne’s chapters and nearly all of Peter’s. I understand intellectually why these chapters were chopped up into parallel timelines, so that the influence of the father on the son and on the great-granddaughter could be seen filtering through the generations of McCulloughs, but in the end it just didn’t work for me.
3 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Quiz: Are you as well-read as a 10th grader?
2011: The Survivors Club by Ben Sherwood
2010: The Carl Brandon Society Ereader Drawing
2009: Giveaway: Sorrow Wood by Raymond L. Atkins WINNERS
2008: The new Profile Page is hideous!