Bookshot #153: The Son

Westerns aren't usually my thing, but this one was recommended by a co-worker, and what a

recommendation it turned out to be. The Son is an amazing novel and although I went the audiobook route for this one, the audiobook was even more brilliant, because they've got Will Patton, Clifton Collins, and Kate Mulgrew to do the narration for it. 

The story begins with Eli McCullough at the end of his life, beginning narration of his last testament before flashing us back to the Texas frontier of 1849. Eli is 13 years old when his family is attacked by the Comanches which results in the rape and murder of his sister and mother. Eli and his older brother are kidnapped and eventually, Martin, his brother dies as well. Eli is eventually welcomed into the band- first as a slave and then gradually as a full member of the tribe. He's eventually adopted by Toshaway, the man who kidnapped him. A series of misfortunes eventually it the tribe, including an outbreak of disease that eventually kills Toshaway and the rest of Eli's Comanche family. In order to provide for what's left of his band, he allows himself to be sold back into white society.

He has a hard time integrating into white society, stealing, and generally doing whatever he wants (including an affair with a local Judge's wife that nearly gets him hanged for his trouble.) When the Civil War comes along, he fights for the Confederacy, though it seems to him that mainly the war is for the benefit of rich people and most soldiers don't much care about it. Eventually, he steals a bag of gold, which he uses to buy land and make his fortune. He gets into a feud with his neighbors, murdering Arturo Garcia, who stole some of his cattle, and bearing a grudge against the nephew that comes to take his place. Eli marries the daughter of a local judge who is eventually killed (along with his oldest son) by a band of Lipans who he tracks down and murders in the 1880s.

The second strand of the story features Peter McCullough, the son of Eli in 1915. With the Revolution in Mexico causing chaos along the border, he watches as his father stirs up the anti-Mexican sentiment to murder the Garcia family, their wealthy neighbors who have been on the land since before America was the country. The resulting slaughter of the family leads to multi-day riots where the local white populace murders or drives out the remaining Spanish families in the area. In the years following, Peter becomes disgusted and estranged from his family as his father uses the murders to acquire the Garcia land. He becomes haunted at his role in the actions and eventually becomes estranged from his wife and his sons. A few years later, the sole survivor of the massacre, Maria Garcia shows up, and eventually Peter shelters her and falls in love with her and when his family gives her ten thousand dollars to leave, Peter follows her to Mexico, tracks her down, and eventually has two children with her.

The third strand of the story flashes forward to 2012, where J.A. McCullough collapses alone in her home. With no one to help her, she thinks back on her life on the ranch where she was partially raised by her great grandfather Eli. Though she has older brothers, she realizes that she is the only one that is going to care for the ranch. Eventually, when her brothers go fight in World War II, her great Uncle Phineas reveals the parlous state of her family's finances thanks to her father's profligate spending. Shortly after that, her father dies in a hunting accident and J.A. inherits all the land and money. Phineas eventually introduces her to Hank, a driller who becomes her husband and helps her to extract oil from the land and make them incredibly wealthy. He eventually dies in a hunting accident of his own and J.A. spends the next several decades being disappointed in her children, taking various lovers and getting older, wondering what will happen to her family's land.

Several times, she's contacted by Mexicans claiming to her whom she dismisses. In her 90s, a young man named Ulises Garcia comes to work for her and eventually proves that Peter is his great grandfather, but she still calls the police on him. and in her haste, falls and hits her head. Ulises, knowing that he'll be blamed for what happened to her leaves in a panic, but not before setting the house on fire.

Deeply rooted in the past century and a half of the history of Texas, The Son is epic in every sense of the word. I've always been a sucker for huge family dramas (I loved Leon Uris' Trinity and Redemption, for instance, and this is definitely cut from similar cloth.) Meyer doesn't glamorize the ugliness of the frontier- not shying away from the brutality of the Comanche attacks on white settlers (or the ultimate fate of Native Americans at the hands of white settlers and the U.S. government.) I don't have a ton of first-hand knowledge of Texas history, but the tensions along the border explored in Peter's strand feel very real to me- especially given what I know about Mexico's revolutionary period in that era- which is more than I used to, but still not a comprehensive amount. 

The characters are well-rounded- and here, the choice to have different narrators for the audiobook really adds to that distinctiveness as well. I don't know if that would have shined through as well in the novel, for instance, but there you have Peter's strand of the story being told as a diary/journal, which makes his narrative a little different from the others. 

Overall: Epic, sweeping, beautifully written, and amazingly narrated, The Son is more than worthy of all the plaudits, hype, and awards it has earned. My Grade: **** out of ****

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