Valyruh #CBR5 Review #74: The Son by Philipp Meyer

This is a second novel by this relatively new young writer, whose first book American Rust I reviewed favorably recently. The Son is brilliant, but a different creature altogether. Whereas American Rust took a close hard look at the industrial rust belt of America in the former steel center of Pittsburgh, Meyer’s newest work is a highly ambitious examination of that heady mix of cattle, oil, money and political power that both built and corrupted the state of Texas, and the America of which it is a part.

This epic focuses on the lives of the McCullough family spanning the pre-Civil War period through the present time. There are three primary protagonists whose lives and viewpoints define alternating chapters in The Son: Eli McCullough, whose capture and adoption by Indians in 1849 at the tender age of 13, defines him for the rest of his life as a lone wolf, equal parts courageous, ambitious and utterly ruthless as he sets about creating an empire for himself; his son Peter, who despises everything his father stands for but is unable to walk away from it; and Jeannie Anne, Eli’s great-granddaughter and inheritor of the McCullough empire.

Meyer very daringly experiments with his story, changing viewpoints from first to third and back again, and from the Indian perspective under threat of extinction to that of the white man and his imperative to expand. We see the Civil War unfold from the unique perspective of a recently-annexed Texas, we watch the land wars, the extermination of the Mexicans unlucky enough to be caught in those wars, the sacrifice of wives and children to the lure of wealth, the struggle of an independent woman to survive in a man’s world, the rise and fall of empires.

This sprawling book only occasionally wanders afield, but mostly is tightly conceived and woven through with a social conscience that doesn’t hesitate to show us the consequences of power run amuck. A challenging and thought-provoking book.