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This vast novel tells the history of a fictional Texan dynasty, and through it the history of the state from the days of the Indians to the present. Without revealing anything of the story here are the key and dates to give an idea of the enormous scale of the book and to help with any initial confusion.

The story interleaves, a chapter at a time, the narratives of three family members. They are Eli McCullough (the colonel) 1836 - 1936; his son Peter (born 1870); Peter's grandaughter Jeannie (born 1926). Their three perspectives alternate a chapter at a time. Eli's story is the tale of the wild west, devoted mostly to his teenage and early adulthood - and it is extremely wild with murder and theft as frequent and normal as the many sexual escapades. Peter's story is revealed through his diaries in 1915 - 1917. It deals with cattle ranching, oil, more killing and more sex but gives a completely different perspective. Jeannie's story is a mixed reflection looking back in 2012 at her whole life which includes more ranching, more oil, more violent deaths and more sex. Thus we have an incredible vista spanning four generations and nearly two centuries. In fact it spans five generations because an additional character arrives late in the book.

If this sounds like the Dallas television series, the similarity is superficial. The novel does not deal so much with the politics and scheming as with the contrasting views on life and morality of the main players. Nor does it deal with the high life. Jeannie does appear on the front page of Time magazine but we feel much more the characters' relationship with the land than with their money.

Although the story is of epic scale, it is a moral tale, not an epic tale. The rise to fortune is barely traced out - rather we are given snapshots of the methods, the justifications, the disputes and consequences. I found this much more interesting and thought provoking. The story is interesting without ever compromising the sense of reality for the sake of the dramatic. Certainly some extraordinary events are described but it always feels realistic, never exaggerated. The contrast between the three main characters, one an intelligent man of conscience, one a successful man whose achievements are mostly based on killing other people, and one a complex mixture, is never simplistic. We are naturally inclined towards Peter and it is clear that the family has stolen, cheated and murdered its way to power and lost its soul in the process. Yet, instead of playing up our indignation, Meyer paints a rich portrait of all sides. For me this makes it a quality account.
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on 22 July 2013
'The Son' is the second book by Philipp Meyer. It follows the equally compelling American Rust which was released in 2010 here in the UK.

Whilst his first book deals with the Urban Decay of post-industrial America, 'The Son' take a much more grandiose approach to the Texan plains. As soon as you see the mocked up family tree at the start you get a feel for what you are in for (which I have posted in the pictures at the top of this product page - I felt it useful to refer to, so i printed this out to stop me looking back on the Kindle).

'The Son' follows the McCulloughs across culture, time and space. Whilst it may be seen as a historical novel this book mostly excels as an anthropological masterclass.

There is a concern at the beginning that you are in for a real history lesson and I did find myself often 'googling' certain terms as I am not that well versed in American history or the South-Western geographical nuances. However eventually I was relieved to see that this detail tends to ease as the book progresses and gives way to character enhancement and plot.

There is no mercy in these plains. The book is gripping, enthralling and heart-breaking at times. Often it becomes so encapsulating that you become intensely immersed in the stunning barren scenery. By the end I felt so familiar with Commanche culture that, once this epic unfortunately came to an end, my tube rides in to work felt just as alien as the first few chapters of this novel!

I cannot recommend this book highly enough! A truly rewarding read.
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At last a possible successor to the great Texan author Larry McMurtry. Yes this epic story, up there with Lonesome Dove, spanning 170 years in the lives of the McCullough clan as they kill, cheat and steal their way to the top of Texan wealth is that good.
Back about 1850 young Eli McCullough witnesses the rape, defilement and slaughter of his mother, sister and brother at the hands of the Comanche people before being taken as their slave. He survives and learns their ways and skills becoming a respected member of the tribe. He grows to love his new "parents" and fellow braves. After some disastrous raids and hard winters with food and ammunition almost gone he agrees to be sold back to the whites thus allowing his particular band of the Comanche nation to survive for a little longer. Still only sixteen he finds it hard to settle into "civilized" life and becomes a problem to those who try to help him. The answer for him is The Texas Rangers where the survival rate is about 50% for each tour of duty. By a stroke of good fortune he comes into substantial funds and sets about making a name for himself and of course an even greater fortune.
We follow Eli and his descendants to the present time against the background of Texan history covering the Indian, Civil and Mexican wars, the rise and fall of the cattle empires and the emergence of the biggest money maker of all: the oil industry.
Intermingled with real events and characters from American history and painstakingly researched this is a remarkable and totally believable work. Although over 800 pages long, it is a page turner with literally never a dull moment.
I have read Mr. Meyer's previous work American Rust and enjoyed it [see my review], but this goes way beyond that in scale, entertainment and pure enjoyment. "The Son" epitomizes reading for pleasure.
Why this does not feature in the best selling charts, I do not know for that is where it belongs. I keenly await Philipp Meyer's next novel.
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I would not have personally have chosen ‘The Son’; but Book Clubs operate on that principle, regularly setting you reading something you wouldn’t normally pick up, often to very good effect. So, yes, I was on foreign soil from the start, I didn’t know anything much about Texas, Cowboys and Indians, well only from the tv, and I certainly don’t feel comfortable with much violence for the sake of it. This area was to be a test too far for my good will towards new subjects.

Philipp Meyer has, in my opinion, written more for hardened perhaps masculine tastes than for a female audience. Most of his reviewers are men. Sustained, terrible, bloodthirsty deeds pepper every page and paragraph. There is barely a chapter without murder, mayhem and misery. Terrifying torture, just for circus style entertainment; scalpings, dis-embowellings, shootings with arrows and bullets, hangings, piles of dead children, repeated rapings, burnings and and blindings. Accept this as best you can, and you may not mind so much, but it got to me because it never ever stopped. I think ‘The Son’ should carry an X certificate and a strong warning. Another hint, don’t read this before sleep. Nightmares may follow.

And worse, the book itself is also butchered. Chopped up mercilessly into three life stories; those of Eli, his son Peter and Jeannie, Eii’s granddaughter; time sweeps back and forth in random chunks, with no apparent structure. There are seventy-two chapters, which took me just under six hours to read. That was despite my kindle scaring me from the start with a prediction of thirteen hours in book. I read fast.

Even though I hated it, you’ve guessed, I learnt a lot. The way of life for the various tribes; nationalities and settlers is deeply researched and impressive. I give credit to the author for all that. I wish there had been a glossary as there are whole reams of words and references that needed explanation. The kindle version doesn’t support a family tree, for the seven generations of McCullough’s, I found one in the look inside feature on the amazon page which helped. As did the reviews by other readers, which I was referring to for help to keep me going.

For your information I am a lady in her sixties who reads over a hundred books a year – I am not prudish but I do have sensitivities as hopefully most people will admit to. The huge, wide-ranging story told in ‘The Son’ is not just a fiction, it’s based on facts, some apparently incorrect but the actions described are part of the history of Texas. For this reason I say it is a valuable work but for myself I am just glad to have got through it.
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on 9 December 2013
I loved this book and intend to read more Philipp Meyers. Using the device of family history it sweeps though a fair chunk of American history (most of the 1800s and 1900s) taking into account the Indians (a many and varied people) and the rest (also a many and varied people) but all anchored to the experience of one family, the McCulloughs. Eli has first hand experience as a child of family massacre by Indians and then goes on to live with the tribe and earn a respected place in their lives. Later in his very long life he rejoins his own 'kind' and the lives of his descendants are woven into the story.
There are 72 chapters! The chapters are narrated by different members of the family so that they all have chance to give their point of view about events and other people. In this way, Meyer gives great depth to the story.
I am very fond of books about the histories of America and have also enjoyed Cormack McCarthy's books (e.g. The Border Trilogy) and Larry McMurtry's (e.g. Lonesome Dove) to name two of very different styles. I would say that Meyer's style falls somewhere between the uncompromising poetry of McCarthy and the jolly good yarn of McMurtry, though I should not like to have to pinpoint its exact position! Meyer has, I think, more interest in plotting than McCarthy (whose stories are often lists of episodes, like Odysseys, connected only by the central character). Meyer reveals how characters and events affect one another, back and forth. Meyer, like McMurtry, is happy to take on female characters.
It is quite an undertaking to tackle 72 chapters and I would recommend it to many of my friends - maybe, but not exclusively, the men. Worth it though in my view.
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on 18 May 2014
This is the tale of three generations of one family in Texas, starting in the 1800s. It's a huge, sweeping epic of a novel, taking in Native Americans, the settling of the West, race relations, feminism, the oil rush, money and capitalism, love, lust, bravery, cowardice, companionship, the brutality of humanity, identity, family, loyalty and who deserves it, the battle for power, sex, horses, coming of age, and forgiveness (and the lack of it) to name just a few. The writing is spare and elegant, and the whole book is a feat of sweeping history. It's one of those books that'll be described as a Great American Novel which is wholly deserved. Well worth the time investment.
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on 28 September 2013
I loved this book. It's grand in scope, covering generations of the same family and the colonisation of Texas from wilderness to oil field. Of the three main characters, Eli is the most compelling and the descriptions of his period with the Comanche are superb and very moving. It's an epic novel that tests the reader's notions of morality and justice. I found myself thinking about it for days after I finished it and I had to read a much lighter book afterwards as a kind of 'sorbet' while I digested it. It's not for the faint hearted though - some of the descriptions of everyday life and the brutality that man is capable of inflicting on other men are very graphic!
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on 9 August 2014
This is partly an historical novel about the rise of an oil and ranching dynasty. Le plot spans some 150 years and it concentrates on one proudly purebred south Texan family the McCullough. It showcases in a very dramatic way how each generation faces unique challenges. This 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction finalist is 576 pages long, a follow up to “American Rust”, is one that bears its weight with confidence.

The story alternates chapter by chapter through three narrators: Eli, his son Peter and Peter’s great-niece Jeannie. It was a challenge at first to get use to this structure but once into it what follows was a spectacular narrative right up to the drama’s eerie and heart-stopping finish.

The story open in 1849 and is primarily of Eli. We learn how he was abducted at the age of 13 and raised by the Comanche. His chapters are the best of the book: rich in detail and gore. The supporting roles go to Peter, a weak-willed character who comes to us in a series of embittered diary written before WW1. Equally compelling is the disordered memories of Jeannie who at 86, now one of the wealthiest women recalls the development of Texas and the frustrations she endured as an executive. The author handles the snobberies and cruelties with deft and excellence although it may be a bit tedious to read for some. We do have appealing moments of astuteness and cleverness throughout even though the story tends to struggle under the weight of repetition and bluntness but having said this I was nevertheless captured by the scope of this ambitious book deeply rooted in cultural history….

If you don’t mind depictions of violence recounted with emotion, scenes of rage, dismemberment, massacre and torture that are exceptionally harrowing you will love this book. “The Son” is a vivid evocation of time and place, enjoy.
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on 4 July 2014
It's very difficult to know where to begin writing a review of "The Son" as it is unlike any book I have ever read. The scope is immense, and it is without doubt one of the most astonishing novels I have ever come across. I admit that I did struggle initially, but once I became used to the fragmented narrative, I found the book totally absorbing.

Told in three distinct time periods and by three distinctly different characters, the story unfolds across a hundred and fifty years of the McCullough family with the backdrop of the changing face of Texas as the impressive canvas that Philipp Meyer uses to paint this tour de force.

If that gives the impression that this is a family saga, then nothing could be further from the truth. This is a brutal, uncompromising story told with an unflinching eye for detail. The main characters are finely etched, and will live long in the memory. Eli, captured by Comanche Indians at thirteen years of age, forced into semi slavery and never really able to come to terms with civilisation (although that word is used very loosely in this context): Peter, Eli's son, a weak and indecisive man driven by an almost insatiable carnal lust and self-loathing: Jeanne Anne, Eli's granddaughter, who helps build a multi-million oil empire, but whose femininity is constantly threatened by the chauvinistic world that she inhabits.

It is through the eyes of these characters that we witness the battles, wars, deprivation, social injustice and cruelty that was the true story of the American west. Until now, my only exposure to Texas was through James Michener's book on the territory, which now seems sanitised and romanticised when compared to Meyer's stark, merciless, almost savage depiction.

Though by no means an easy read, this is a book that I would wholeheartedly recommend - it may be difficult to get into, but perseverance will be richly rewarded.
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on 14 March 2014
"Even if God existed, to say he loved the human race was preposterous. It was just as likely the opposite: it was just as likely he was systematically deceiving us" Page 505 perhaps sums up a lot of what Meyer is asking us to consider in his long novel. Three generations of a family who are locked into a history which they have shaped by their own deeds. Had God been involved he was surely smiling at their efforts.
A novel needs to have a format, a plot line and be populated by men and women who act in believable and interesting ways. Philipp Meyer has all of these characteristics in his novel. Because the novel is told through three generations there is a coherency and continuation of story line in the interrelated plot lines. Meyer only writes his story about three members of the family - Eli, Peter and Jeannie. Readers are confronted at the start of the novel with a genealogical table of the seven generations of the McCulloughs, which is a little daunting and meant some cross referencing had to be done.
The story about Eli is the star part of the novel, written with historical accuracy and feeling. The old west and men who made their mark against adversity. Peter's woes are his own feelings of inadequacy and his attempts to put right the wrongs of the past. Jeannie is the product of her breeding (Eli's traits and Peter' softer side) and in the end she denies a portion of her heritage. Neither Peter's nor Jeannie's stories hit the narrative highs of Eli's tale. As the author suggests late in the book we are no longer the strongest and most motivated. It is no longer the survival of the fittest.
This is a very good novel and I am sure Mr Meyer has other better things yet to come. At the moment the author and this novel are not quite at the standard of Richard Ford or Don Delillo.
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