The Son

Written by Philipp Meyer
Review by Ellen Keith

As its page count implies, this is a behemoth of a book. And I devoured it in just a few days. Spanning over one hundred and fifty years in Texas, The Son touches on everything from Comanche kidnappings in the 19th century to land grabs of Mexican American lands to the oil boom and bust of the 20th century.

The book alternates between three different perspectives: that of Eli McCullough, kidnapped by a Comanche tribe in the mid-19th century; Peter McCullough, his son, whom he considers a disappointment; and his great-granddaughter, Jeanne Anne, the heir to the McCullough empire. All three perspectives are equally engrossing, not an easy feat to accomplish. The story of Texas is also woven throughout each narrative. Meyer never glorifies or glosses over this state’s turbulent history, and there are neither heroes nor villains here.

The young Eli may be the biggest cipher of the book. Kidnapped as an adolescent, he adapts to life with the Comanches, and although he eventually returns to his former life, he’s scornful of civilization’s trappings. He reserves the most disdain for his son Peter, whom he finds soft. Peter is judged so because he is an unwilling participant in the massacre of a Mexican family on adjacent land. Jeanne Anne becomes the de facto head of the family after World War II takes her brothers. Learning the oil business, she also faces prejudice due to her gender.

Confession: I had never thought myself as particularly interested in Texas, but Meyer has made a convert of me. Its history is unique, and with each storyline, Meyer allows the reader to see how it was shaped. Don’t mess with Texas, indeed.