Thursday, May 1, 2014

Texas Saga

Wow, this is not my kind of book. The Son, by Philipp Meyer, is a sprawling, multi-generational saga set in Texas and spanning over 160 years, replete with such standard Western elements as cowboys, Indians, cattle, oil, death, greed, betrayal - not exactly in my wheelhouse. Yes, I loved “Lonesome Dove” - not multi-generational but certainly a saga – but so often books in this genre fall into the cliches of the strong, silent cowboy, the noble savage, the patient wife, the money-grubbing oilmen, the romanticized view of the Old West. So I took advantage of Kindle's option to sample the first few chapters before deciding if it's worth buying. And let me just say that when I finished that sample I could not push the Buy Book button fast enough. I would say those early chapters were hair-raising, but, given that they involve Comanches attacking a homesteading family, that would be a little too literal.

The book's chapters alternate in three different voices. Centenarian Eli McCullough, patriarch of the family, speaking to a WPA recorder, narrates the story of his long and eventful life, beginning with his abduction by the aforementioned Comanches. His son Peter's story is told by entries in his diaries. They reveal a man who possesses the moral compass his father lacks, but who is powerless against the dogged ruthlessness that allows Eli to build his empire. Eli's great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne has inherited his greed and determination, even his brutality, but at the start we see her as an eighty-six year old lying helpless on the floor in her mansion, and even as she unfolds the events of her life, we sense that she has sown the seeds of her own destruction.

This is a long, rich, powerful story that avoids every stereotype. There are no heroic cowboys, no brave Rangers, the Indians are noble and they are savage, the strong steal from the weak. The three narrative perspectives eventually merge into a complicated tapestry of Texas history.