Monday, June 3, 2013

Review: "The Son" by Philipp Meyer

I hate to be predictable, but the sophomore effort by the extremely talented Philipp Meyer, The Son, is not just as good as I thought it was going to be, but it has even shattered those expectations. This book is simply astounding. Every chapter, every event and every action in this novel shows proof of Meyer’s mastery over the narrative form, and, before long, it will be talked about along side books like Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury as being a modern classic. As much as I love American Rust, which is one of my favorite books, The Son, I am glad to say, is so much better than its predecessor. In scope, meaning, and urgency, this book dwarves American Rust. If that book announced the arrival of a new talent, this book cements that arrival, with a story that is grand, bloody and overwhelmingly compelling about the birth of a new kind of nation seen through three generations of a powerful Texas family. The Son tells the story of the rise and fall of the McCullough family, a rich dynasty built of oil, and, as we learn, the blood of anyone who stands in the way of their progress. Be warned, this is a violent book, probably the most viscerally violent book I have read in a long time, with graphic scenes of torture and mutilation of fellow humans being described in graphic detail, that is never meant to shock, but to show the different values the competing cultures of Indians and early Americans had. Told in alternating chapters with three different generations of McCulloughs, we first meet Eli, the patriarch of this family, who will have a role in the two other storylines. He is the first child born in the New Republic of Texas, and we see the journey he takes in order to become the presence he becomes throughout the book. We see his family raped and killed by the Comanche Indians, who kidnap him and make him into one of their own, teaching him self-reliance and confidence, as well as the futility of compassion for human life. We then meet his son Peter, who is a victim of this lack of compassion when he sees the brutal slaughter of a Mexican family at the hands of his father and cohorts in order to get more land. Finally, we meet his great-granddaughter, Jeanie, who narrates her life story while she is lying paralyzed in the parlor of her family home. Through three separate eyes, we find out the cost of success and what it does to someone’s soul. We see Eli become a victim, victimizer, and folk hero through three different chapters, but the fact remains that he has killed people to get what he has in life, with little or no remorse. Peter’s impotence and cowardice to confront his father and do what is right causes him to make a decision that ruins his legacy. And Jeanie, caught between being a ruthless businesswoman in a world of men and having desires to be loved by a husband causes her a fair share of tragedy as well. This is also a compelling mystery, as we are intrigued by what Eli, Peter and Jeanie did to become what they are, and the reveal is tremendous as well as being a cathartic dose of karmic justice, with an ending paragraph that just might be my new favorite. The Son’s quality, grandeur and possible importance are simply staggering, and I don’t think I will read anything like this in a long time.
Rating: 5/5

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