Good Book: The Son by Philipp Meyer

The Son is an historical epic set in the American West. Separate plot lines follow three generations of the McCullough family in Texas. The stories of Eli, Peter, and Jeannie are driven by ruthless violence, survival, power lust, coming-of-age, and guilt. The panoramic scope spanning over a century and multiple generations would make its 550 pages seem limiting, but I was entranced with just one of the three plot lines:

Eli McCullough was the first child born in the new Republic of Texas. At age eight the Comanches raid his home, destroying the homestead and killing his family. He watches his sister being raped and killed. He and his brother are taken captive and he slowly learns the ways and life of the Comanches.

To research the novel, Meyer read more than 250 books on the West. But that wasn’t enough for him. To get a sense of what life might have been like for the Comanche, who play a central role in the book, he spent months in the desert and the plains, eating and sleeping outdoors.

“I taught myself to bow hunt; I took weeks and months of tracking classes on how to track animals and how to understand how Native Americans related to their environment,” Meyer explains. “I went to a buffalo rancher who raises organic, grass-fed buffalo for restaurants and I helped him kill several buffalo. After we shot these animals, basically I took a coffee mug and filled it with the blood from the animal’s neck and drank it because that was another thing the Comanches did with some regularity.” NPR’s author interview

As the moral compass, Peter’s story is a lot of guilt-ridden brooding and consequently the dullest. The story of Jeannie, the fifth richest woman in Texas, is a bit more fleshed out and could even be the basis of good standalone novel. But Meyer’s depiction of Eli’s life with the Comanches is by far the most riveting of the three. It’s such a fascinating account. His journey threads through the book like gold and I didn’t want his time as a Comanche to end.

The length of the book makes it a bigger commitment than a weekend read, but if you have any penchant for the American West, any interest in Native American culture, it’s well worth it. I’m excited for the slated television drama series adaptation on AMC.

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