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The Son

The Son

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The Son

4/5 (59 évaluations)
669 pages
12 heures
May 28, 2013

Note de l'éditeur

Powerful story of the Old West…

Phillip Meyer’s critically acclaimed and bestselling novel of the Old West is a fully-realized tale of identity, family, and belonging. Make sure to read the excellent novel before checking out the AMC adaptation, starring Pierce Brosnan.


Soon to be a TV Series on AMC starring Pierce Brosnan and co-written by Philipp Meyer.

Now in paperback, the critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling epic, a saga of land, blood, and power that follows the rise of one unforgettable Texas family from the Comanche raids of the 1800s to the oil booms of the 20th century.

Part epic of Texas, part classic coming-of-age story, part unflinching examination of the bloody price of power, The Son is a gripping and utterly transporting novel that maps the legacy of violence in the American west with rare emotional acuity, even as it presents an intimate portrait of one family across two centuries.

Eli McCullough is just twelve-years-old when a marauding band of Comanche storm his Texas homestead and brutally murder his mother and sister, taking him as a captive. Despite their torture and cruelty, Eli--against all odds--adapts to life with the Comanche, learning their ways, their language, taking on a new name, finding a place as the adopted son of the chief of the band, and fighting their wars against not only other Indians, but white men, too-complicating his sense of loyalty, his promised vengeance, and his very understanding of self. But when disease, starvation, and westward expansion finally decimate the Comanche, Eli is left alone in a world in which he belongs nowhere, neither white nor Indian, civilized or fully wild.

Deftly interweaving Eli’s story with those of his son, Peter, and his great-granddaughter, JA, The Son deftly explores the legacy of Eli’s ruthlessness, his drive to power, and his life-long status as an outsider, even as the McCullough family rises to become one of the richest in Texas, a ranching-and-oil dynasty of unsurpassed wealth and privilege.

Harrowing, panoramic, and deeply evocative, The Son is a fully realized masterwork in the greatest tradition of the American canon-an unforgettable novel that combines the narrative prowess of Larry McMurtry with the knife edge sharpness of Cormac McCarthy.

May 28, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Philipp Meyer is the author of the critically lauded novel American Rust, winner of the 2009 Los Angeles Times Book Prize. It was an Economist Book of the Year, a Washington Post Top Ten Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Book. He is a graduate of Cornell University and has an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a James Michener Fellow. A native of Baltimore, he now lives mostly in Texas.

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The Son - Philipp Meyer

Chapter One

Colonel Eli McCullough

Taken from a 1936 WPA Recording

It was prophesied I would live to see one hundred and having achieved that age I see no reason to doubt it. I am not dying a Christian though my scalp is intact and if there is an eternal hunting ground, that is where I am headed. That or the river Styx. My opinion at this moment is my life has been far too short: the good I could do if given another year on my feet. Instead I am strapped to this bed, fouling myself like an infant.

Should the Creator see fit to give me strength I will make my way to the waters that run through the pasture. The Nueces River at its eastern bend. I have always preferred the Devil’s. In my dreams I have reached it three times and it is known that Alexander the Great, on his last night of mortal life, crawled from his palace and tried to slip into the Euphrates, knowing that if his body disappeared, his people would assume he had ascended to heaven as a god. His wife stopped him at the water’s edge. She dragged him home to die mortal. And people ask why I did not remarry.

Should my son appear, I would prefer not to suffer his smile of victory. Seed of my destruction. I know what he did and I suspect he has long graced the banks of the river Jordan, as Quanah Parker, last chief of the Comanches, gave the boy scant chance to reach fifty. In return for this information I gave to Quanah and his warriors a young bull buffalo, a prime animal to be slain the old way with lances, on my pastures that had once been their hunting grounds. One of Quanah’s companions was a venerable Arapahoe chief and as we sat partaking of the bull’s warm liver in the ancient manner, dipped in the animal’s own bile, he gave me a silver band he had personally removed from the finger of George Armstrong Custer. The ring is marked 7th Cav. It bears a deep scar from a lance, and, having no suitable heir, I will take it to the river with me.

Most will be familiar with the date of my birth. The Declaration of Independence that bore the Republic of Texas out of Mexican tyranny was ratified March 2, 1836, in a humble shack at the edge of the Brazos. Half the signatories were malarial; the other half had come to Texas to escape a hangman’s noose. I was the first male child of this new republic.

The Spanish had been in Texas hundreds of years but nothing had come of it. Since Columbus they had been conquering all the natives that stood in their way and while I have never met an Aztec, they must have been a pack of mincing choirboys. The Lipan Apaches stopped the old conquistadores in their tracks. Then came the Comanche. The earth had seen nothing like them since the Mongols; they drove the Apaches into the sea, destroyed the Spanish Army, turned Mexico into a slave market. I once saw Comanches herding villagers along the Pecos, hundreds at a time, no different from the way you’d drive cattle.

Having been trounced by the aboriginals, the Mexican government devised a desperate plan to settle Texas. Any man, of any nation, willing to move west of the Sabine River would receive four thousand acres of free land. The fine print was written in blood. The Comanche philosophy toward outsiders was nearly papal in its thoroughness: torture and kill the men, rape and kill the women, take the children for slaves or adoption. Few from the ancient countries of Europe took the Mexicans up on their offer. In fact, no one came at all. Except the Americans. They flooded in. They had women and children to spare and to him that overcometh, I giveth to eat of the tree of life.

IN 1832 MY father arrived in Matagorda, common in those days if you viewed the risk of death by firing squad or a scalping by the Comanches as God’s way of telling you there were great rewards to be had. By then the Mexican government, nervous about the growing Anglo horde within its borders, had banned American immigration into Texas.

And still it was better than the Old States, where unless you were son of a plantation owner, there was nothing to be had but the gleanings. Let the records show that the better classes, the Austins and Houstons, were all content to remain citizens of Mexico so long as they could keep their land. Their descendants have waged wars of propaganda to clear their names and have them declared Founders of Texas. In truth it was only the men like my father, who had nothing, who pushed Texas into war.

Like every able-bodied Scotsman, he did his part in the rout at San Jacinto and after the war worked as a blacksmith, gunsmith, and surveyor. He was tall and easy to talk to. He had a straight back and hard hands and people felt safe around him, which proved, for most of them, to be an illusion.

MY FATHER WAS not religious and I attribute my heathen ways to him. Still, he was the sort of man who felt the breath of the pale rider close on his neck. He did not believe in time to waste. We first lived at Bastrop, raising corn, sorghum, and hogs, clearing land until the new settlers came in, those who waited until the Indian dangers had passed, then arrived with their lawyers to challenge the deeds and titles of those who had civilized the country and vanquished the red man. These first Texans had purchased their holdings with the original human currency and most could neither read nor write. By the age of ten I had dug four graves. The faintest sound of galloping hooves would wake the entire family, and by the time the news arrived—some neighbor cut up like a Thanksgiving shoat—my father had checked his loads and then he and the messenger would disappear into the night. The brave die young: that is the Comanche saying, but it was true of the first Anglos as well.

During the ten years Texas stood alone as a nation, the government was desperate for settlers, especially those with money. And through some invisible telegraph the message went back to the Old States—this area is safe now. In 1844 the first stranger arrived at our gate: a barbershop shingle, store-bought clothes, a lady-broke sorrel. He asked for grain as his horse would founder on grass. A horse that could not eat grass—I had never heard of such a thing.

Two months later, the Smithwicks’ title was challenged and then the Hornsbys and MacLeods were bought out at a pittance. By then there were more lawyers in Texas, per capita, than any other place on the continent and within a few years all the original settlers had lost their land and been driven west again, back into Indian country. The gentler classes who had stolen the land were already plotting a war to protect their blacks; the South would be cursed but Texas, a child of the West, would emerge unscathed.

In the meantime a campaign was launched against my mother, a Castilian of the old line, dark skinned but finely featured, it was claimed by the new settlers that she was octoroon. The plantation gentleman took pride in his eye for such things.

By 1846 we had moved past the line of settlement, to my father’s headright on the Pedernales. It was Comanche hunting grounds. The trees had never heard an ax, and the land and all the animals who lived upon it were fat and slick. Grass up to the chest, the soil deep and black in the bottoms, and even the steepest hillsides overrun with wildflowers. It was not the dry rocky place it is today.

Wild Spanish cattle were easily acquired with a rope—within a year we had a hundred head. Hogs and mustang horses were also for the taking. There were deer, turkey, bear, squirrel, the occasional buffalo, turtles and fish from the river, ducks, plums and mustang grapes, bee trees and persimmons—the country was rich with life the way it is rotten with people today. The only problem was keeping your scalp attached.

Chapter Two

Jeanne Anne McCullough

March 3, 2012

There were murmurs and quiet voices, not enough light. She was in a large room that she first mistook for a church or courthouse and though she was awake, she couldn’t feel anything. It was like floating in a warm bath. There were dim chandeliers, logs smoking in a fireplace, Jacobean chairs and tables and busts of old Greeks. There was a rug that had been a gift from the Shah. She wondered who would find her.

It was a big white house in the Spanish style; nineteen bedrooms, a library, a great room and ballroom. She and her brothers had all been born here but now it was nothing more than a weekend house, a place for family reunions. The maids wouldn’t be back until morning. Her mind was perfectly awake but the rest of her seemed to have been left unplugged and she was fairly certain that someone else was responsible for her condition. She was eighty-six years old, but even if she liked telling others that she couldn’t wait to cross over to the Land of Mañana, it was not exactly true.

The most important thing is a man who does what I tell him. She had said that to a reporter from Time magazine and they’d put her on the cover, forty-one and still sultry, standing on her Cadillac in front of a field of pumpjacks. She was a small, slender woman, though people forgot this soon after meeting her. Her voice carried and her eyes were gray like an old pistol or blue norther; she was striking, though not exactly beautiful. Which the Yankee photographer must have noticed. He had her open her blouse another notch and did her hair like she’d stepped out of an open car. It was not the height of her power—that had come decades later—but it was an important moment. They had begun to take her seriously. Now the man who’d taken the photograph was dead. No one is going to find you, she thought.

Of course it was going to happen this way; even as a child she’d been mostly alone. Her family had owned the town. People made no sense to her. Men, with whom she had everything in common, did not want her around. Women, with whom she had nothing in common, smiled too much, laughed too loud, and mostly reminded her of small dogs, their lives lost in interior decorating and other peoples’ outfits. There had never been a place for a person like her.

SHE WAS YOUNG, eight or ten, sitting on the porch. It was a cool day in spring and the green hills went on as far as she could see, McCullough land, as far as she could see. But something was wrong: there was her Cadillac, parked in the grass, and the old stables, which her brother had not yet burned, were already gone. I am going to wake up now, she thought. But then the Colonel—her great-grandfather—was speaking. Her father was there as well. She’d once had a grandfather, Peter McCullough, but he had disappeared and no one had anything good to say about him and she knew she would not have liked him either.

I was thinking you might make a showing at the church this Sunday, her father said.

The Colonel thought those things were best left to the Negroes and Mexicans. He was a hundred years old and did not mind telling people they were wrong. His arms were like gunsticks and his face was splotchy as an old rawhide and they said the next time he fell, it would be right into his own grave.

The thing about preachers, he was saying, is if they ain’t sparkin’ your daughters, or eatin’ all the fried chicken and pie in your icebox, they’re cheatin’ your sons on horses.

Her father was twice the size of the Colonel, but, as the Colonel was always pointing out, he had a strong back and a weak mind. Her brother Clint had bought a horse and saddle off that pastor and there had been a setfast under the blanket nearly the size of a griddle cake.

HER FATHER MADE her go to church anyway, waking up early to make the trip to Carrizo, where they had a Sunday school. She was hungry and could barely keep her eyes open. When she asked the teacher what would happen to the Colonel, who was sitting home that very minute, likely drinking a julep, the teacher said he was going to hell, where he would be tortured by Satan himself. In that case, I am going with him, Jeannie said. She was a disgraceful little scamp. She would have been whipped if she were Mexican.

On the ride home, she could not understand why her father sided with the teacher, who had a beak like an eagle and smelled like something inside her had died. The woman was ugly as a tar bucket. During the war, her father was saying, I promised God that if I survived, I would go to church every Sunday. But just before you were born, I stopped going because I was busy. And do you know what happened? She did—she had always known. But he reminded her anyway: Your mother died.

Jonas, her oldest brother, said something about not scaring her. Her father told Jonas to be quiet and Clint pinched her arm and whispered, When you go to hell, the first thing they do is shove a pitchfork up your ass.

She opened her eyes. Clint had been dead sixty years. Nothing in the dim room had moved. The papers, she thought. She had saved them from the fire once and had not gotten around to destroying them. Now they would be found.

Chapter Three

Diaries of Peter McCullough

AUGUST 10, 1915

My birthday. Today, without the help of any whiskey, I have reached the conclusion: I am no one. Looking back on my forty-five years I see nothing worthwhile—what I had mistaken for a soul appears more like a black abyss—I have allowed others to shape me as they pleased. To ask the Colonel I am the worst son he has ever had—he has always preferred Phineas and even poor Everett.

This journal will be the only true record of this family. In Austin they are planning a celebration for the Colonel’s eightieth birthday, and what will be honestly said about a man who is lionized in capitols, I don’t know. Meanwhile, our bloody summer continues. The telephone lines to Brownsville cannot be kept open—every time they are repaired, the insurgents blow them up. The King Ranch was attacked by forty sediciosos last night, there was a three-hour gun battle at Los Tulitos, and the president of the Cameron Law and Order League was shot to death, though whether the latter is a gain or loss, I can’t say.

As for the Mexicans, to see the number of them shot in bar ditches or hung from trees, you would think them as ill a scourge as the panther or wolf. The San Antonio Express no longer mentions their deaths—it would take up too much paper—and so the Tejano die unrecorded and are buried, if at all, in shallow graves, or roped and dragged off where they will not bother anyone.

After Longino and Estaban Morales were killed last month (by whom we don’t know, though I suspect Niles Gilbert) the Colonel devised a note for all our vaqueros: This man is a good Mexican. Please leave him alone. When I am done with him I will kill him myself. Our men display these notes like badges of honor; they worship the Colonel (along with everyone else), nuestro patrón.

Unfortunately for the Tejanos, the area cattlemen continue to lose stock. In the west pastures last week Sullivan and I found a section where the wire was cut and by nightfall we’d found only 263 cows and calves, versus the 478 counted during the spring roundup. A twenty-thousand-dollar loss and all evidence, circumstantially at least, pointing to our neighbors, the Garcias. I myself would rather lose the kingdom than lay blood libel against the wrong person. But that is a rare sentiment.

I HAVE ALWAYS thought I ought to have been born in the Old States, where, though their soil is even more blood soaked than ours, they no longer need their guns. But of course it is against my disposition. Even Austin I find overwhelming, as if each of its sixty thousand inhabitants were shouting at me at once. I have always found it difficult to clear my head—images and sounds linger with me for years—and so here I remain, in the one place that is truly mine, whether it wants me or not.

As we examined the cut fences, Sullivan pointed out, quite unnecessarily, that the tracks led right into the Garcia lands, which border the river, which, as it has been so dry, can be crossed nearly anywhere.

I do not mind old Pedro, he said, but his sons-in-law are as vile a pack of niggers as I have ever seen.

You’ve been spending too much time with the Colonel, I told him.

"He does sabe his Mexicans."

I have found just the opposite.

In that case, boss, I am hoping you will learn me the various honest explanations for a cut fence leading to Pedro Garcia’s pastures while we are short two hundred head. Time was we would cross and take them back but that is a bit above our bend these days.

Old Pedro can’t watch every inch of his land any more than we can watch every inch of ours.

You’re a big man, he said, and I don’t see why you act like such a small one.

After that he had no further comment. He considers it a personal affront that a Mexican might own so much land in our day and age. Of course the vaqueros do not help: because of his weight and high voice they call him Don Castrado behind his back.

As for Pedro Garcia, trouble seems to follow him like a lonely dog. Two of his sons-in-law are being pursued by the Mexican authorities for cattle theft, a notable accomplishment given that country’s views on such matters. I attempted to visit him last week, only to be turned back by José and Chico. Don Pedro no feel good, they told me, and pretended not to understand my Spanish. I have known Pedro my entire life, knew he would accept me as a visitor, but of course I turned my horse around and said nothing.

Pedro has been shorthanded so long that the brush is overrunning his land, and for the past two years he has only managed to brand half his calves. Each year he makes less money, each year he cannot hire as many men, and thus each year his income decreases yet again.

Still he has retained his good nature. I have always preferred his household to our own. We both enjoyed the old days, when it was a gentler land, with white caliche roads and adobe villages, not a thornbush to be seen and the grass up to your stirrups. Now the brush is relentless and the old stone villages are abandoned. The only houses built are crooked wood-frame monstrosities that grow like mushrooms but begin rotting just as quickly.

In many ways Pedro has been a truer father to me than the Colonel; if he has ever had a harsh word for me, I have not heard it. He had always hoped I might take an interest in one of his daughters, and for a time I was quite infatuated with María, the eldest, but I could sense the Colonel was strongly against it, and, like a coward, I allowed the feeling to pass. María went to Mexico City to pursue her studies; her sisters married Mexicans, all of whom have their eyes on Pedro’s land.

My greatest fear is that Sullivan is right and that Pedro’s sons-in-law are involved with the theft of our stock; they may not understand what the consequences will be; they may not understand that Don Pedro cannot protect them.

AUGUST 11, 1915

Sally and Dr. Pilkington are driving Glenn, our youngest, to San Antonio. He was shot tonight when we came across some riders in the dark. The wound is high in the shoulder and is certainly not life threatening and had it not been for the Colonel I would have gone to San Antonio with my son.

The Colonel has decided that the shooters were our neighbors. When I protested that it was too dark for any of us to have seen the guilty parties, it was implied that I was a traitor.

If you’d learned anything I taught you, he said. That was Chico and José on those horses.

Well, you must have eyes like a catamount to be able to see in the dark past a furlong.

As you well know, he told me, my vision has always carried farther than that of other men.

About a quarter of the town (the white quarter) is downstairs. Along with the Rangers, all of our vaqueros, and the Midkiff vaqueros as well. In a few minutes we will ride on the Garcias.

Chapter Four

Eli McCullough

Spring 1849, the last full moon. We’d been two years on our Pedernales acreocracy, not far from Fredericksburg, when our neighbor had two horses stolen in broad daylight. Syphilis Poe, as my father called him, had come down from the Appalachian Mountains, imagining Texas a lazy man’s paradise where the firewood split itself, the persimmons fell into your lap, and your pipe was always stuffed with jimsonweed. He was the commonest type on the frontier, though there were plenty like my father—intent on getting rich if they could stay alive long enough—and there were the Germans.

Before the Germans came, it was thought impossible to make butter in a southern climate. It was also thought impossible to grow wheat. A slave economy does that to the human mind, but the Germans, who had not been told otherwise, arrived and began churning first-rate butter and raising heavy crops of the noble cereal, which they sold to their dumbfounded neighbors at a high profit.

Your German had no allergy to work, which was conspicuous when you looked at his possessions. If, upon passing some field, you noticed the soil was level and the rows straight, the land belonged to a German. If the field was full of rocks, if the rows appeared to have been laid by a blind Indian, if it was December and the cotton had not been picked, you knew the land was owned by one of the local whites, who had drifted over from Tennessee and hoped that the bounties of Dame Nature would, by some witchery, yield him up a slave.

But I am ahead of myself. The problem facing my father that morning was the theft of two scrawny horses and a conspicuous trail of unshod pony tracks leading into the hills. Common sense suggested the perpetrators might still be about—no self-respecting horse thief would have been satisfied with Poe’s mangy swaybacked mares—but the law of the frontier demanded pursuit, and so my father and the other men rode off, leaving my brother and me with a rifle apiece and two silver-mounted pistols taken off a general at San Jacinto. This was considered plenty to defend a sturdy house, as the army had come to the frontier and the big Indian raids of the early ’40s were thought to be over.

The men rode out just before noon, and my brother and I, both between hay and grass but feeling full grown, were not worried. We had no fear of the aborigine; there were dozens of Tonkawas and other strays living nearby, waiting for the government to open a reservation. They might rob lost Yankees, but they knew better than to molest the locals: we all wanted an Indian pelt and would have collected one at the slightest excuse.

BY THE TIME I was twelve, I had killed the biggest panther ever seen in Blanco County. I could trail a deer across hard ground and my sense of direction was as good as our father’s. Even my brother, though he had a weakness for books and poetry, could outshoot any man from the Old States.

As for my brother, I was embarrassed for him. I would point out tracks he could not see, telling him which way the buck’s head had been turned and whether its belly had been full or empty and what had made it nervous. I saw farther, ran faster, heard things he thought I imagined.

But my brother did not mind. He thought himself superior for reasons I could not fathom. Whereas I hated every fresh wagon track, every sign of a new settler, my brother had always known that he would head east. He talked incessantly about the superiority of cities and it would not be long until he got his wish—our crops were heavy, our herds increasing—our parents would be able to hire a man to replace him.

Thanks to the Germans in Fredericksburg, where more books were stockpiled than in the rest of Texas combined, people like my brother were considered normal. He understood German because our neighbors spoke it, French because it was superior, and Spanish because you could not live in Texas without it. He had finished The Sorrows of Young Werther in the original language and claimed to be working on his own superior version, though he would not let anyone read it.

Outside of Goethe and Byron, my sister was the object of most of my brother’s thoughts. She was a beautiful girl who played the piano nearly as well as my brother read and wrote, and it was widely considered a shame that they were related. For my part, I had a bit of a hatchet face. The Germans thought I looked French.

As for my brother and sister, if there was anything improper I never knew it, though when she spoke to him her words were made of cotton, or a sweet that dissolves on your tongue, whereas I was addressed as a cur dog. My brother was always writing plays for her to act in, the two of them playing a doomed couple while I was cast as the Indian or badman who caused their ruination. My father pretended interest while shooting me knowing looks. So far as he was concerned, my brother was only acceptable because I’d turned out so close to perfect. But my mother was proud. She had high hopes for my siblings.

THE CABIN WAS two rooms linked by a covered dogtrot. It sat on a bluff where a spring came out of the rock and flowed over a ledge to the Pedernales. The woods were thick as first creation and my father said if we ever got to where the trees didn’t rub the house, we would move. Of course my mother felt different.

We fenced and gated a yard and stock pen, built a smokehouse, a corncrib, and a stable where my father did blacksmithing. We had a wood floor and glass windows with shutters and a German-built stove that would burn all night on just a few sticks. The furniture had the look of store-bought; it was whitewashed and turned by the Mormons at Burnet.

In the main room my mother and father kept a canopy bed to themselves and my sister had a cot; my brother and I shared a bed in the unheated room on the other side of the dogtrot, though I often slept outside in a rawhide I’d slung thirty feet or so in the air, in the branches of an old oak. My brother often lit a candle to read (a luxury my mother indulged), which disturbed my sleep.

The centerpiece of the main room was a Spanish square piano, my mother’s sole inheritance. It was a rarity, and the Germans came over on Sundays to sing and visit and be subjected to my brother’s plays. My mother was formulating plans to move into Fredericksburg, which would allow my brother and sister to resume their schooling. Me she considered a lost cause and had she not witnessed my issuance she would have denied responsibility in my creation. As soon as I was old enough I planned to join a Ranging company and ride against the Indians, Mexicans, or whomever else I could.

THINKING BACK, IT is plain my mother knew what would happen. The human mind was open in those days, we felt every disturbance and ripple; even those like my brother were in tune with the natural laws. Man today lives in a coffin of flesh. Hearing and seeing nothing. The Land and Law are perverted. The Good Book says I will gather you to Jerusalem to the furnace of my wrath. It says thou art the land that is not cleansed. I concur. We need a great fire that will sweep from ocean to ocean and I offer my oath that I will soak myself in kerosene if promised the fire would be allowed to burn.

But I digress. That afternoon I was making myself useful, as children did in those days, carving an ox yoke out of dogwood. My sister came out of the house and said, Eli, go out to the springhouse and bring Mother all the butter and grape preserves.

At first I did not reply, for in no way did I find her superior, and as for her supposed charms, they had long since worn off. Though I will admit I was often murderous jealous of my brother, the way they sat together smiling about private matters. I was not exactly on her good side, either, having recently stolen the horse of her preferred suitor, an Alsatian named Hiebert. Despite the fact that I had returned the horse better than I found it, having taught it the pleasures of a good rider, Hiebert had not returned to call on her.

Eli! She had a voice like a hog caller. I decided I was sorry for whatever unfortunate wretch got roped to her.

We’re near out of butter, I shouted back. And Daddy will be mad if he comes home and finds it gone. I went back to my whittling. It was nice in the shade with nothing but the green hills and a forty-mile view. Right below me the river made a series of little waterfalls.

In addition to the yoke, I had a new handle to make for my felling ax. It was a bo’dark sapling I had found in my travels. The handle would be springier than what my father liked, with a doe foot on the end for slippage.

Get up, said my sister. She was standing over me. Get the butter, Eli. I mean it.

I looked up at her standing there in her best blue homespun and made note of a fresh boil that she was attempting to hide with paint. When I finally brought the butter and preserves, my mother had stoked the stove and opened all the windows to keep the house cool.

Eli, my mother said, go down and catch us a few fish, will you? And maybe a duck if you see one.

What about the Indians? I said.

Well, if you catch one, don’t bring him back. There’s no sense kissing the Devil till you’ve met him.

Where’s Saint Martin?

He’s out fetching blackberries.

I picked my way down the limestone bluff to the river, taking my fishing pole, war bag, and my father’s Jaegerbuchse. The Jaegerbuchse fired a one-ounce ball, had double-set triggers, and was one of the best rifles on the frontier, but my father found it cumbersome to reload from horseback. My brother had first claim on it, but he found its kick too ferocious for his poetical constitution. It got meat on both ends but I did not mind that. It would drive its ball through even the oldermost of the tribe of Ephraim, or, if you preferred, bark a squirrel at nearly any distance. I was happy to carry it.

The Pedernales was narrow and cut deep into the rock, and there was not much water most times, maybe a hundred yards across and a few feet deep. Along the banks were old cypresses and sycamores, and the river itself was full of swimming holes and waterfalls and shaded pools brimming with eels. Like most Texas rivers it was useless to boatmen, though I considered this an advantage, as it kept the boatmen out.

I dug some grubs from the bank, collected a few oak galls for floats, and found a shady pool under a cypress. Just above me on the hill was an enormous mulberry, so heavy with fruit that even the ringtails had not been able to eat it all. I took off my shirt and picked as many as I could, intending to bring them to my mother.

I began to fish, though it was hard relaxing because I couldn’t see the house, it being high above me on the bluff. The Indians liked to travel in the riverbeds and my father had taken the only repeating firearms. But that was not bad in its way because it made me watch everything, the water glassing over the stone, skunk tracks in the mud, a heron in a far pool. There was a bobcat ghosting through the willows, thinking no one saw him.

Farther up the bank was a stand of pecans where a cat squirrel was taking bites of green nuts and dropping them to the ground to rot. I wondered why they did that: a squirrel will waste half the nuts on a tree before they are ripe. I thought about teaching him a lesson. Squirrel liver is top bait; if the Creator was a fisherman it is all he would use. But it was hard to reckon a one-ounce ball against a bushytail. I wished I’d brought my brother’s .36 Kentucky. I began to graze on the mulberries and soon they were all gone. Mother preferred blackberries anyway. She viewed mulberries the same as sassafras tea, low class.

After another hour of fishing I saw a flock of turkeys on the opposite bank and shot one of the poults. It was seventy yards but the head came clean off. I was allowed to aim at the head, my brother was not—the poult flapped its wings crazily, trying to fly while the blood fountained up. A shot for the record books.

I braced my fishing pole under a rock, swabbed the barrel clean, measured out a careful charge, seated a ball and capped the nipple. Then I waded across the river to retrieve my prize.

Near where the poult lay in a fan of blood there was a purple spear point sticking out of the sand. It was four inches long and I sat examining it for a long time; it had two flutes at the base that modern man has yet to figure how to replicate. The local flint was all cream to brown, which told me something else about that spear point: it had traveled a long way.

When I got back to my fishing pole it was floating downriver and I saw a big catfish had stuck itself on my bait, another one-in-a-million chance. I set the hook, thinking I’d lose the fish, but it pulled out of the water with no trouble. I decided to think about it. While I was sitting there I saw something in the sky and when I looked through my fist I realized it was Venus, that I was seeing it during the daytime. A bad sign if there ever was one. I took the turkey and catfish and my mulberry-stained shirt and hightailed it back to the house.

That was quick, said my mother. Only one fish?

I held up the turkey.

We were worried when we heard the shot, said my sister.

I don’t think it’s good being so far from the house.

The Indians won’t bother you, my mother said. The army is everywhere.

I’m worried about you and Lizzie, not me, I said.

Oh, Eli, said my mother. My little hero. She appeared not to notice my ruined shirt and she smelled of the brandy that we saved for important guests. My sister smelled of brandy as well. It had gone to her head and she pinched my cheek sweetly. I was annoyed at her. I considered reminding her that Miles Wallace had been kidnapped not a month earlier. But unlike the Wallace boy, who had been taken by the Comanches only to be scalped a few miles later, I was not a walleyed cripple. I knew I would probably enjoy being kidnapped, as all they did was ride and shoot.

After double-checking our supply of patch and ball I went outside and climbed the tree into my rawhide hammock, where I could see out over the riverbed, the road, and the surrounding country. I hung the Jaegerbuchse from a nail. I had been meaning to shoot something while swinging in the hammock—that would be proper living—but had not yet been successful. Through the dogwoods near the spring I could see my brother gathering blackberries. The wind was calm and it was pleasant lying there with the smell of my mother’s cooking. My brother had his rifle with him but wandered far from it, a sloppy habit. My father was strict about those things—if a gun is worth carrying it is worth keeping within arm’s reach.

But that afternoon my brother was in luck, as we saw no Indians. Near sundown I spotted something moving in the rocks above the flood line, sneaking in and out of the cedar, which turned out to be a wolf. It was so far away it might have been a coyote, but wolves run with their tails straight and proud while coyotes tuck them under like scolded dogs. The tail was straight on this one and he was a pale gray, nearly white. The branches were in my way so I climbed down out of the tree, snuck to the edge of the bluff, and got into a good brace with the sights high over the wolf’s back. He had stopped with his nose in the air, picking up the smell of our dinner. I set the first trigger, which made the second trigger only a twelve-ounce pull, then squeezed off the shot. The wolf jumped straight up and fell over dead. My father had us patch our bullets with greased buckskin, and our balls carried farther and straighter than if we’d used cotton patches, like most everyone else on the frontier.

Eli, was that you shooting? It was my sister.

It was just a wolf, I shouted back. I thought about going down to get the skin—a white wolf, I had never seen one of those before—but decided against it, as it was getting dark.

Because of all the food being made, we did not sit down for supper until late. Seven or eight tallow candles were lit around the house, another luxury. My mother and sister had been cooking all day and they brought out dish after dish. We all knew it was to punish my father for leaving us alone, for being guilted into a wild-goose chase, but no one said anything.

My brother and I drank cool buttermilk, my mother and sister drank a bottle of white wine we had gotten from the Germans. My father had been saving the wine for a special occasion. Supper began with wheat bread and butter and the last of the cherry preserves, then ham, sweet potatoes, roast turkey, fish stuffed with wild garlic and fried in tallow, steaks rubbed with salt and chili pepper and cooked directly on the coals, the last of the spring morels, also cooked in butter, and a warm salad of pigweed and Indian spinach, cooked in more butter and with garlic. I had never eaten so much butter in my life. For dessert we had two pies: blackberry and plum, fruit my brother had picked that day. There was nothing left in the larder but hardtack and salt pork. If he wants to run with Syphilis Poe, my mother said, then he can eat like Syphilis Poe.

I felt guilty but that did not stop me from eating my share. My mother did not feel guilty at all. She wished for more wine. Everyone was falling asleep.

I carried the ham bone out to the springhouse, then sat watching the stars. I had my own names for them—the buck, the rattler, the running man—but my brother convinced me to use Ptolemy’s, which did not make any sense. Draco looks like a snake, not a dragon. Ursa Major looks like a man running; there is not a bear anywhere in it. But my brother could not abide anything so tainted with common sense and thus my effort to name the heavens was aborted.

I put the horses in the stable, barred the door from the inside, and climbed out through the gap in the eaves. It would take any Indians a while to get at them. The horses seemed calm, which was a good sign, as they could smell Indians better than the dogs.

By the time I got back inside, my mother and sister had retired to my parents’ canopy bed and my brother was lying in my sister’s cot. Usually my brother and I slept in the room across the dogtrot, but I let him be. After gathering my rifle, war bag, and boots to the foot of the bed, I spit into the last candle and climbed under the covers with my brother.

AROUND MIDNIGHT I heard our dogs rucking up a chorus. I had not been sleeping well anyway so I got up to check the porthole, worried my mother or sister would see what was sticking up under my nightshirt.

Which I forgot about. There were a dozen men near our fence and more in the shadows near the road and still more in our side yard. I heard a dog yelp and then our smallest, a fyce named Perdida, went running off into the brush. She was hunched like a gut-shot deer.

Everyone get the hell up, I said. Get up, Momma. Get everyone up.

The moon was high and it might as well have been daylight. The Indians led our three horses out of the yard and down the hill. I wondered how they’d figured their way into the stable. Our bulldog was following a tall brave around like they were best friends.

Move over, said my brother.

He and my mother and sister had gotten out of bed and were both standing behind me.

There’s a lot of Indians.

It’s probably Rooster Joe and the other Tonks, said my brother.

I let him push me out of the way, then went to the fire and poked it so we would have light. Since statehood we’d had good Indian years; most of the U.S. Army had been stationed in Texas to watch the frontier. I wondered where they were. I knew I should load all the guns, then remembered I had already done it. A rhyme came into my head, buffalo grip, barlow blade, best damn knife that was ever made. I knew what would happen—the Indians would knock on the door, we would not let them in, and they would try to break in until they got bored. Then they would set fire to the house and shoot us as we came out.

Martin? said my mother.

He’s right. There are at least two dozen.

Then it’s whites, said my sister. It’s some gang of horse thieves.

No, it’s definitely Indians.

I got my rifle and sat down in a corner facing the door. It was shadows and dim red light. I wondered if I would go to hell. My brother was pacing and my mother and sister had sat down on their bed. My mother was brushing my sister’s hair saying, Shush now, Lizzie, everything will be fine. In the dimness their eyes were empty sockets like the buzzards had already found them. I looked the other way.

Your rifle has a nipple on it, I told my brother, and so do the pistols.

He shook his head.

If we put up a fight, they might just be happy with the horses.

I could tell he didn’t agree but he went to the corner and took up his squirrel gun, feeling the nipple for a percussion cap.

I already capped it, I repeated.

Maybe they’ll think we’re not home, said my sister. She looked to my brother but he said, They can see we have a fire going, Lizzie.

We could hear the Indians clanging things around in my father’s metal shop, talking in low voices. My mother got up and put a chair in front of the door and stood on it. There was another gun port up high and she removed the board and put her face to it: I only see seven.

There are at least thirty, I told her.

Daddy will be following them, said my sister. He’ll know they’re here.

Maybe when he sees the flames, said my brother.

They’re coming.

Get down from there, Mammy.

Not so loud, said my sister.

Someone kicked the door and my mother nearly fell off her perch. Salir, salir. There was pounding. Spanish was the language most of the wild tribes spoke, if they spoke anything but Indian. I thought the door might stop a few shots at best and I motioned again for my mother to get down.

Tenemos hambre. Nos dan los alimentos.

That is ridiculous, said my brother. Who would believe that?

There was a long quiet time and then Mother looked at us and said, in her schoolteacher voice: Eli and Martin, please put your guns on the floor. She began to remove the bar from the door and I realized that everything they ever said about women was true—they had no common sense and you could not trust them.

"Do not open that door, Momma.

Grab her, I told Martin. But he didn’t move. I saw the bar lift and propped the rifle on my knee. The moonlight was coming through the cracks like a white fire but my mother didn’t notice; she set the bar aside like she was welcoming an old friend, like she’d been expecting this from the day we were born.

IT WAS SAID in the newspapers that mothers on the frontier saved their last bullets for their own children, so they would not be taken by the heathens, but you did not hear of anyone doing it. In fact it was the opposite. We all knew I was of prime age—the Indians would want me alive. My brother and sister might have been slightly old, but my sister was pretty and my brother looked younger than he really was. Meanwhile my mother was almost forty. She knew exactly what they would do to her.

The door flung open and two men tackled her. A third man stood behind them in the doorway, squinting into the darkness of the house.

When my shot hit, he windmilled an arm and fell backward. The other Indians sprinted out and I yelled for my brother to shut the door but he didn’t move. I ran over to shut it myself but the dead Indian was lying across the sill. I was grabbing for his feet, intending to pull him in and clear the doorway, when he kicked me under the jaw.

When I came to there were trees waving in the moonlight and one loud noise after another. Indians were standing on either side of the doorway, leaning to shoot into the room, then ducking back around the corner. My sister said, Martin, I think they’ve shot me. My brother was just sitting there. I thought he’d taken a ball. The Indians took a break for the powder smoke to thin so I jerked the rifle from his hand, checked that the hammer was cocked, and was swinging it toward the Indians when my mother stopped me.

Then I was on my stomach; at first I thought the house had fallen, but it was a man. I grabbed at his neck but my head kept chunking against the floor. Then I was outside under the trees.

I tried to stand but was kicked and tried again and was kicked again. Now a man’s feet, now the ground next to them. Now a pair of legs, covered in buckskin. I bit his foot and was kicked a third time and then my hair was being pulled like it would come out at the roots. I waited for the cutting.

When I opened my eyes there was a big red face; he smelled like onions and a dirty outhouse and he showed me with the knife that I would behave or he would cut my head off. Then he lashed my hands with a piggin string.

When he walked away, he did not look like any Indian I’d ever seen. The aborigines living among the whites were thin, light bodied, and hard wintered. This one was tall and stocky, with a square head and fat nose; he looked more like a Negro than a lathy starving Indian and he walked with his chest out, as if taking everything we owned was his natural right.

There were fifteen or twenty horses outside the gate and as many Indians against our fence, laughing and making jokes. There was no sign of my mother or brother or sister. The Indians were stripped to the waist and covered with paint and designs like they’d escaped from a traveling show; one had painted his face like a skull, another had the same design on his chest.

Some of the Indians were rummaging the house and others rummaging the stables or outbuildings but most were leaning on the fence watching their friends work. All the white men I’d ever seen after a fight were nervous for hours, pacing and talking so fast you couldn’t understand them, but the Indians were bored and yawning like they’d just come back from an evening constitutional, except for the man I’d shot, who was sitting against the house. There was blood on his chest and his mouth was frothing. Maybe he’d jumped sideways when the cap popped—they said the aboriginals had reflexes like deer. His friends saw me staring and one came over and said taibo nu wukupatu?i, then knocked me in the head.

I had a long dream where I was brought before a man to judge me for my sins. It was Saint Peter, only in the form of the teacher of our school in Bastrop, who had disliked me over all the other students, and I knew I was going to hell.

Then most of the Indians were standing looking at something on the ground. There was a white leg crooked in the air and a man’s bare ass and buckskin leggings on top. I realized it was my mother and by the way the man was moving and the bells on his legs were jingling I knew what he was doing to her. After a while he stood up and retied his breechcloth. Another jumped right into place. I had just gotten to my feet when my ears started ringing and the ground came up and I thought I was dead for certain.

A while later I heard noises again. I could see the second group of Indians a little farther down the fence but now I could hear my sister’s voice whimpering. The Indians were doing the same to her as my mother.

FINALLY I REALIZED I was in bed. I was having a dream. It was nice until I woke up all the way and heard war whoops and saw I was still in the yard. My mother was naked and crawling away from the Indians; she had reached the porch and was trying to make it to the door. Inside the house, someone was pounding on the piano and there was something waving out from my mother’s back that I realized was an arrow.

The Indians must have decided they did not want her in the house because they began shooting more arrows into her. She kept crawling. Finally one of them walked up

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Ce que les gens pensent de The Son

59 évaluations / 51 Avis
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  • Phillip Meyer's critically acclaimed and bestselling novel of the Old West is a fully-realized tale of identity, family, and belonging. Make sure to read the excellent novel before checking out the AMC adaptation, starring Pierce Brosnan.

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Avis des lecteurs

  • (4/5)
    Meyer's book is a sprawling family chronicle told through the eyes of four members of the McCullough family spanning from the 1830s to modern times. Only one of the characters, family patriarch Eli has a story that is compelling enough to keep me wanting more. Kidnapped as a boy and raised by Comanches, he later goes on to become a Texas Ranger and Confederate officer before starting his family empire. I liked his character so much that all others were pale caricatures by comparison.
  • (4/5)
    A brilliant sprawling tale of a Great American Family. The Eli sections - a more accessible, less gruesome Blood Meridian - are so good that they outshine the other two strands quite dramatically, but it's fun flicking back and forth in time to see quite how the formidable patriarch's reputation was formed.
  • (3/5)
    This long family saga set in Texas is primarily told from the point of view of three related characters of different generations. Unfortunately, I found the story of only one of the characters interesting and even that storyline sort of petered out. Eli McCullough is taken by the Comanche when he is 12 and lives with them until he is 16. I liked his description of life with his captors, who became his new family. His life after he returned to live with white people also had an interesting progression. In contrast, the lives of the other two protagonists had no progression at all and did not interest me very much. The story of Eli's son Peter is mostly about the murder of Mexicans by the white Texans who then stole their land. There was also Peter's affair with a Mexican woman, which probably wasn't a good idea for either of them. The chapters of the book dealing with Eli's great granddaughter were like episodes of Dallas - all money, politics and oil deals. Also there was a lot of whining about the problems of a woman in a man's world (which are hard to take seriously coming from someone enormously wealthy). I don't think the blurb does this book any favors by comparing it to the work of Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy.I'd had this book for a while but only decided to read it when I heard about the upcoming TV series based on the book. After listening to the audiobook, I'm still undecided about whether or not I want to watch the series. I can easily see it sinking in a morass of sex and violence. The audiobook had multiple narrators and I particularly liked the narration of the Eli chapters by Will Patton.
  • (4/5)
    I had loved Meyer's American Rust when I read it during a holiday in Pennsylvania a couple of years back; a trip to Texas last week seemed like a good excuse to read his follow-up, which showed every sign of being a culmination of his many talents. The Son is a sprawling, multigenerational family tale, not a million miles away from the kind of AGA-saga that people like Joanna Trollope have been writing for years, though because the author is male and American the book – which in alternating chapters follows the members of three different generations from the 1830s to the present day – has been lauded as some kind of revolution in narrative structure.The earliest storyline, which is by far the most compelling (there's problem one), consists of a first-person account by the family patriarch, who was abducted by Comanches and brought up first as a slave and eventually as an accepted member of the tribe. Here Meyer is in fine deadpan Western mode, channelling Faulkner and – especially – inviting risky comparisons with Cormac McCarthy, in relation to whom Meyer occasionally seems almost to be a pasticheur:By sundown the walls of the canyon looked to be on fire and the clouds coming off the prairie were glowing like smoke in the light, as if this place were His forge and the Creator himself were still fashioning the earth.Meyer's prose style is not as distinctive as McCarthy's, and he doesn't have quite the same bleakness of vision (Meyer reacts to man's violence with weariness and sympathy, while McCarthy reacts with pure horror), but he does have a stronger sense of plot and incident. Following Eli McCullough's early life as a Comanche captive is totally compelling from a purely narrative point of view, the inside portrayal of Comanche life is impressively convincing, and interleaving the stories of Eli's descendants makes it very clear how this violence was handed down to future generations.There is a practical point being made here, which appealed to me: it's not anything high-flown about the metaphysics of conflict and death, but rather about the sober realities of how the American West was built on constant cycles of killing – whether of animals, Native Americans, Mexicans or neighbours – and how these cycles do not just replay endlessly in place but are also even exported (notice how later generations of McCulloughs, heavily involved in the oil industry, discuss creating further opportunities in Iran and Iraq).On the ranch they had found points from both the Clovis and the Folsom, and while Jesus was walking to Calvary the Mogollon people were bashing each other with stone axes. When the Spanish came there were the Suma, Jumano, Manso, La Junta, Concho and Chisos and Toboso, Ocana and Cacaxtle, the Coahuiltecans, Comecrudos…but whether they had wiped out the Mogollons or were descended from them, no one knew. They were all wiped out by the Apaches. Who were in turn wiped out, in Texas anyway, by the Comanches. Who were finally wiped out by the Americans.The book's title, then, doesn't refer to any son in particular. Rather, it brings to mind Biblical warnings about where the sins of the father will be visited: that sense of retribution, unfairness, and cyclical violence is what the novel is finally about. The cycles have not stopped and they show every sign of continuing to play out until we're all long gone.The question is, do you need six hundred pages to illustrate that point? I felt that you didn't, and the book overstayed its welcome slightly for me; from around the halfway mark, I was silently urging, yes, yes, we get it and battling a growing sense that the more modern strands of narrative were underdeveloped and contributing little – they wouldn't stand on their own two feet and only worked as adjuncts to the richer story of the 1860s.This practical problem, I suspect, is what motivated the novel's structure. Nevertheless, there are passages in here, of Comanche raids and southwestern hoodoos, that I wouldn't have missed for anything; and as a man-hands-on-misery-to-man family drama, it's full of gruff charm, emotional resonance, and pointed reflections on what lies behind the making of America.
  • (5/5)
    I bought this book after watching the series The Son and I am so glad I did. This book has it all from the Indian raids to the settling of Texas. It is told by 3 people, Eli, his son Peter, and his great granddaughter Jeanne Anne. It tells the story of Eli being taken hostage by the Indians after his mother, sister and brother are killed. His life with the Indians and how he returned to his own kind and how he made his fortune. Although I think his life would have been kinder to him had he stayed with the Indians because his own children weren't kind to him at all. All in all a very good read with a few surprises at the end.
  • (5/5)
    This is a well written, page turning, epic story of the McCulloughs from the 1840's up to the present day told primarily through the alternating stories of three members of the family. It may also be interpreted as a view of any family dynamic that goes from rags (to riches) to rags or more generally the passing of the American dream.Eli McCullough's story is best told and, for me, dominates the book. It is the story of the young son of a frontier settler, taken into slavery by the Comanches when the rest of his family is killed. Eli tells the story of his progression from slavery to near equality with the Comanches and it is this story that is most powerful, engaging and well told. This story on its own would make an excellent (although violent) book.Eli then goes on to tell his story as he passes back to the "white folk", his work during the Confederacy and how he then changes (has been changed) so that he becomes a successful businessman and landowner. This is believable but is necessarily very episodic. Eli dominates the book and is a very rounded character. I felt that I understood why he became "the Colonel" in the memory of the other characters.The story of Peter (Eli's son) is told with excerpts from his journals kept in 1914 to 1917. Peter is therefore necessarily a less engaging character and this is more so as I did not fully believe why he was the character he was. Very much a farmer (cattleman), he does not appreciate the drive of his father and takes a course of action that leads to a more normal ordinary life. Although he starts as a melancholic figure, I thought that he probably ended as the most content character, but he achieves this by escaping from his father's influence.Jeanne, great grand-daughter of Eli, is the third story and is the more familiar story of a successful business person (unusually a woman for her time) in the middle and latter part of the twentieth century. Her story is told as flashback and shows how, although she is shaped by her great grand-father's drive, she cannot pass that on to the next generations.There is a tragic but what feels like an inevitable conclusion, to bring the three stories together in a satisfying way (although it feels too contrived because of that).The past is a different place and the story of Eli makes you believe this. This part of the story might be compared to Blood Meridian, but the book as a whole is a multi-generational family epic.A very readable book, well written, with Eli McCullough bestriding it all.
  • (5/5)
    Philipp Meyer’s The Son is one of those books that instantly clicked with me. It happens sometimes that the perfect-for-you book comes along at just the right moment, a book that intrigues you from the first page right on through the last one (and there are 561 pages in The Son, so that is really saying something). I am not naïve enough to believe that everyone will have the same reaction to The Son that I had, but at this point it is my favorite novel of the first half of 2013.This is the story of seven generations of the McCulloughs, a Texas family whose third generation was sired by Eli McCullough who claims to have been the first Anglo male child born in the Republic of Texas (March 1836). But, unlike so many family sagas, this one is not told in a linear, let’s follow the family tree right down the line, kind of way. Rather, Meyer lets three generations of the McCullough family carry the brunt of the action: Eli (second generation), Peter (third generation), and Jeanne Anne (fifth generation). By alternating narrative chapters from his three main narrators, and having each of them fill in the backstories of other family members, Meyer makes it easy for the reader to follow this remarkable family’s entire 200-year saga.Living in Texas during Eli’s generation was not for sissies, something Eli and the rest of his immediate family learn the hard way when a Comanche raiding party targets the McCullough family farm. For Eli, however, the raid will turn out to be one of those cases of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The years he spends with the tribe, his new family, prepare him for anything that Texas will be able to throw at him for the rest of his life. But Peter McCullough, born in 1870, is not the typical Texan of his day, especially for a man fathered by Eli McCullough. Peter is the “sensitive” type, a man whom his father and two younger brothers see as strangely unwilling to defend the family interest in the long running border war between American and Mexican ranchers. His empathy for his Mexican counterparts is considered a weakness by even, if not especially by, those closest to him.The formidable Jeanne Anne (Peter’s granddaughter), already an old woman by the end of the twentieth century, brings the family into the modern era. Partly because she is somewhat of a feminist, but largely because there is no one else of her generation to do it, Jeanne Anne personally oversees the family’s enormous oil fortune at a time when women do not even think of attempting such a thing. The Son has become a personal favorite of mine, a novel I am likely to read several times over the years. I cannot guarantee that it will work as well for you, of course, but this Philipp Meyer novel is certainly worth a look.
  • (5/5)
    An extraordinary epic. Brilliantly crafted with alternating voices and visions of a multigenerational family coming to terms with its destiny. If possible, I'd recommend reading Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Gwynne prior to The Son for a perfect introduction to and history of Comancheria.
  • (3/5)
    The Son by Philip Meyer, while extremely well written, was not a book I enjoyed. However, my son, who prefers this sort of genre found the book to be quite exciting. I highly suggest reading the book synopsis well (better than I did) and checking out other reviews before deciding of this is the book for you.
  • (5/5)
    This epic novel spans several generations of a Texas family. As the story opens, 100 year old Eli McCullough is telling the story of his life to a reporter. In 1836, he was the first male child born in the newly established Republic of Texas. He is 13 years old when a band of Comanche storm his family's homestead and kidnap Eli and his brother.Eli is brave and clever, and quickly adapts to the Comanche life, and earns acceptance into the tribe. But a few years later, when disease begins killing off the tribe, Eli finds himself alone. Neither white nor Indian, he must carve a place for himself in a world he doesn't fully belong to. Love, honor, and even children are sacrificed in the name of ambition as the family becomes one of the wealthiest in Texas.The story of the family is told in turns by Eli, Eli's son Peter, who has to bear the emotional cost of his father's drive for power, and Jeannie, Eli's great granddaughter, who had to fight hard to succeed in the oil business, at a time when business of any kind was considered a "man's world".Eventually, the McCoulloughs must face the consequences of their choices, starting with those that Eli made which affect the generations to come.There is a lot of violence in this novel, quite detailed at times, (especially the things done to the whites by the Comanche), but it doesn't feel gratuitous, it's a reflection of how brutal things were in that time and place. While Eli's chapters of the story deal with Indians vs. whites, Peter's story deals with the racism of the whites against the Hispanics, which led a lot of senseless violent acts committed against the people of Spanish descent.This is a long novel, 572 pages, but the story never feels slowed down or lagging. At first, I wasn't sure I was going to like it, mainly because of the violence, but as I got further into the story, I really appreciated how well written the characters were, and the plots twists all throughout the story really drew me in. The author has a real gift for giving a good feel for the times and places without going into overly long descriptions of scenery, which I liked because every word in the book really stuck to the heart of the story. It's not as easy feat to pull off a story that spans so much time, from 1836 to 2012, but Philipp Meyer has accomplished it with this novel.I received a free advance readers copy of this book from TheReadingRoom.com. It will be released to the public May 28, 2013.
  • (2/5)
    This novel embraces a huge family saga outlining their experiences from the early nineteenth century when they were beset by raids from neighboruing Mexican rustlers and Native American insurrection, carried through into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.Despite the rave reviews I found it rather a struggle with altogether too much detail on the squalor, violence, rage and overriding despair. No doubt all very true to life as a representation of the pioneers' experience, but I get more than enough of all that at work.I found myself wondering where all the beautiful writing so heavily eulogise in the reviews had gone - it all struck me as rather journeyman-like.
  • (5/5)
    You just can't beat a sprawling multi-generational saga, and The Son is the best one I've read in a good long time. Author Philipp Meyer takes the McCullough family from the Comanche raids of the mid-1800s all the way through to the oil boom of the twentieth century. Once the last page is turned, the reader is left with the fascinating history of Texas, and the three indelible characters Meyer has created.This story is told, in alternating chapters, from the points of view of patriarch Eli McCullough who, as a thirteen-year-old boy, was captured by the Comanches and raised as one of them; Peter, Eli's son, who comes close to eviscerating the empire his father created; and Jeanne, Eli's great-granddaughter, who presides over an inheritance that's changed from ranching to millions of dollars in the oil and gas industry.This book is brutal, it's honest, and it doesn't flinch once. It's also one of the best Indian captive stories I've ever read. Meyer's eye for historical detail and vernacular speech is amazing, and although the book is long, it is never ever boring. In the beginning chapters, Eli's story almost completely overshadows those of the other two characters, but it doesn't take long for Peter and Jeanne to steal their share of the spotlight away from "the Colonel" (as Eli is known in later life). Each one speaks in his or her own distinctive voice, and the further along McCullough Road you travel, the more you want to know about each one.As I've already said, this book is brutal, and it's honest. Meyer describes terrifying Comanche raids and the massacre of a Mexican family. If you don't like scenes of graphic (not gratuitous) violence, this may not be the book for you. If you don't like racial slurs being used, you're not going to like Eli very much. He is a man of his time, and he speaks as men did then. Meyer could not write about life on the frontier and avoid either the violence or the language and have his story remain true.Normally when I read a book, I like to care about at least one of the characters. I didn't find many to like in The Son, but that didn't matter. I was completely swept away by the author's powerful narrative, and by book's end I was shaken and almost felt as though I'd lived through some of those chapters myself. There's no other way to say it: Philipp Meyer is one hell of a storyteller, and I'll be keeping watch for his next book.
  • (4/5)
    Enjoyed listening to as I was bicycling through Texas as I went through the area where the book was set. Family saga that included history of the region.
  • (4/5)
    This was one of the most captivating historical sagas I have read. Through the sweeping history of Texas and the McCullough family the reader becomes engrossed in this often brutal but honest history of greed, progress, and the motto theme of the book – conquer or be conquered, and what this means across different times with changing issues. But it is the voice of the narrators that makes this story soar – as the three different narrators each are not only a product of their times but are haunted by being who they want to be because of these times.While I enjoyed all of the narrators – the most intriguing voice is Eli’s as Meyer’s has penned one of the most entrancing Indian captive storyline that will surely mark this book as a classic. I also enjoyed that that while each narrator tells their story in a linear manner, the narrators do alternate throughout the book so you see the past, present, and future and how each affects the actions of the narrators.I recommend this book to readers of American history/culture and historical fiction.
  • (4/5)
    I picked up this book because of our wonderful trip to the Texas Hill country and this is the location for part of the book. Interesting story, with three stories going on at once. One that takes place in the mid-1800's, another in 1915 and an elderly lady who looks back at her life in the present century. Gruesome at times with Indian Wars, but an interesting look at life in a Comanche village. Well-written by an author who has done his research before writing the book.
  • (5/5)
    Loved this novel about generations of a Texas family starting with old Eli McCullough born in 1836 and captured by the Comanches when a young boy. Peter, his son, is also a product of the frontier but with very different values than his father. Eli's story is told in alternating chapters with entries from Peter's diary and the story of Peter's granddaughter, Jeanne born in 1926. Jeanne's life began when Texas was still part of the "Old West." But her life takes her into today's world of oil production.Without the family tree at the first of the book, I would have had some difficulty figuring out who was who, but after I got to know these characters they became so alive with faults, foibles, motives, ethics, loves, and the invisible but strong ties that bind families. Peter is so different from Eli. To Eli, the end always justifies the means; to Peter, life is just the opposite. Jeanne is definitely her great-grandfather's daughter as she learns to hold her own as a woman in the world of Texas oil.These three provide the backbone of the book which is then encompasses Indians, Texas Rangers, Mexicans, corrupt politicians, and a host of other memorable characters. This is a story of family love and hate and of the effects of greed and wealth on a family. It is a portrait of a violent, prejudiced, yet colorful history of Texas.
  • (5/5)
    I can not say enough about this book. Hands down the book of year. This a grand sweeping novel in the tradition of John Steinbeck. Meyer tells the tale of three generations of McCoulloughs. A family that sees its fortunes rise as its tragedies mount. Pick this one up. You won't be sorry.
  • (4/5)
    This ambitious historical novel relates the history of Texas from 1836 through the present day. The story is told through three narrators whose lives span five generations of the fictional McCullough family, beginning with the birth of Eli in March 1836 on the same day Texas won independence from Mexico. At age 13, Eli was kidnapped by the Comanches, who murdered his mother and sister. He adapts to life with the Comanches, even becoming the chief’s adopted son. But after the tribe is devastated by smallpox, Eli returns to the white world and becomes a Texas Ranger, whose principal occupation was fighting and killing Indians.Eli represents a “type” of Texan male that may be characterized as undereducated, yet omnicompetent. When the Civil War comes, he becomes a brevet colonel and leads a group of rangers who call themselves RMNs (Rich Men’s N_____'s) in a contemptuous reference to the ideals of Southern chivalry. After the war, he becomes a very successful rancher, and later an oil tycoon. Although generally amoral, Eli maintains a code of loyalty to his close associates, whether they be Comanche tribesmen or fellow rangers, asserting:"You could butcher and pillage but as long as you did it for people you loved, it never mattered."The other two narrators are Eli's son Peter, and Jeannie, Eli's great granddaughter. Peter may be the only character in the book with a true conscience. However, he does not have Eli’s power or force of personality. The target of violence for this generation changes from Indians to Hispanics. Peter greatly regrets (but does nothing to prevent) the killing of all but one of a Spanish neighbor family, after which his family takes over their land. Even his regret, though, earns him the disrespect of the rest of his family. By the time Peter’s granddaughter, Jeannie, is born, the McColloughs have become very wealthy ranchers with huge land holdings. In time Jeannie marries a competent oil engineer, and learns the oil business from him. After his untimely death, she becomes fabulously wealthy through the family’s oil holdings, although she prefers being a rancher. As Jeannie’s life comes to an end, she reflects back on the overarching importance of land to the McCulloughs, and the “butchery” required to make that land their own. It may not be "just Chinatown," but it's "just Texas" instead.Discussion: Although each individual narrator’s tale is told chronologically, the book’s chapters jump from one narrator to another in no particular order. The effect is somewhat like an old movie serial in which a character is left in a perilous situation, the resolution of which is postponed until after we see what different (or, occasionally the same) characters were doing a generation (or three) earlier or later. There is a lot of violence in this novel, quite detailed at times. Moreover, while the story of the setting is so central, Meyer’s characters are more fully and realistically developed than those in other books that describe a place by way of a family saga, such as the books of James Michener. Meyer reprises several themes developed in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove: e.g., the Comanches were VERY tough Indians and not all horses are equal. The locale and “atmosphere” of the book are also reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, although Meyer’s writing is more direct and less stylistic than McCarthy’s. If there is a lesson to be inferred from the book, it is that Texas (and by implication, American) history is a series of bloody conquests in which ruthless, well-armed men prevail over less well-armed adversaries. It is a story well-told and entertaining, but a bit discouraging. Nonetheless, Meyer can’t help admiring courage, particularly among the less well-armed. For example, the Comanches are portrayed as rather noble if very cruel. In the final chapter, Eli leads his rangers against a band of Lipan Apaches (a small western tribe) and kills all of them but a nine year old boy whom they leave “as a witness.” The boy, armed only with a bow and arrows, then pursues the mounted rangers on foot for twenty miles. Eli observes, “A child like that would be worth a thousand men today. We left him standing on the riverbank. As far as I know he is looking for me yet.” Evaluation: I enjoyed this book, but I am able to keep savagery and abuse walled off in their fictional realms, and am not too affected by them. If you like Cormac McCarthy or if you were a fan of Lonesome Dove, I think you will find this book as riveting as I did.(JAB)
  • (4/5)
    I enjoyed this story of the McCullough family. The book told some of the history of Texas and followed the family from 1832 to 2011. It was told by members of the family. The only thing that bothered me is that using that many voices and jumping back and forth in time as much as the author did, I really had to keep track of the time period and I sometimes got confused about which father belonged to which generation. The ending nicely tied it all together and saved the book in my eyes. A long, but great read.
  • (4/5)
    The Son intertwines the story of three generations of the McCullough family, living in Texas. Born before the Civil War, Eli McCullough is the long lived family patriarch. Eli was born when so much of Texas was uninhabited and Indian attacks a constant source of danger. His son Peter is the solitary rancher, out of step with his family and neighbors, secretly pining for the one woman he should never have. Great-granddaughter Jeannie McCullough launches the family from the ranks of the wealthy, to the super wealthy as she transitions the family holdings from ranching to oil. The single minded pursuit of wealth leads to great personal cost and a reckoning with the tragic misdeeds of her families past. A central theme of the book is how the strong conquer the weak. Indian tribes slaughtered other tribes. Only to be slaughtered by Mexicans who were both in turn slaughtered by the white Anglos. There are no hero’s and oddly enough, no real villains. Every group is able to justify the outrages they commit, while ignoring their own bloody histories. The McCullough family offers a microcosm of Texan history and in the end the family is not able to outpace its own violent past.
  • (3/5)
    The story of six generations of the McCullough family taming Texas and building their fortune. The Sun follows three members of the family each with a different flaw. While I enjoyed the book I would have preferred if Meyer told each story in more detail. Every time I got invested, he changed stories.
  • (5/5)
    I found this novel, which focuses on five generations of a south Texas family to be immensely entertaining, captivating and educational. I would put it alongside Lonesome Dove with regard to both subject matter and quality. Our family owns a ranch near Cotulla, Texas, immediately adjacent to the fictional McCollough Springs, so much of the geography, history and landscape are familiar. From the family patriarch, Eli McCollough, down to the octogenarian present day family business manager, Jeannie, the five generations are examined through a series of chapters that bounce back and forth through the years. Eli, was born in the early/mid 1800s, as Texas was settled, and was an Indian captive after his family was burned out and largely massacred. He served as a Texas Ranger and a brevet colonel in the Civil War before settling down to amass a roughly 250,000 spread in Dimmit County Texas, very near Mexico, through both hard work and unscrupulous means. His immediate descendants were not up to the job of maintaining the family empire, but luckily, Jeannie’s arrival, overlapping the life of the 100 year old Eli, serves to solidify and expand the family’s influence.At the heart of the novel is the relationship and juxtaposition between Eli and his sole surviving son, Peter. Where Eli is a cold blooded pragmatist, who doesn’t let a little murder stand in the way of his empire building, Peter is a kinder soul, with a standard of ethics that are ill suited for his life with the Colonel.In addition to the numerous personal tales contained therein, the novel is an outstanding history lesson on the founding and settling of Texas, the Civil War in that state, Native American culture, the numerous border incursions throughout the 19th and early 20th century and racial and ethnic prejudices in the region over the years.All in all, a first class piece of work. Among the best I’ve had the pleasure to read.
  • (5/5)
    I read Meyer's first book "American Rust" and based on the glowing reviews I decided to read this. I had read Texas by Michener and Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon by Larry McMurtry so I was familiar with the subject manner. I thought the author did a great job in weaving together the 3 stories covering a 150 year time frame. I thought there could have been less about Eli's time with the Comanches and more about his dealings between 1880 and 1915 but by the end of the book I understood why he set up the way he did. The book is accurate in its' portrayal of the treatment of the Mexicans and the Indians by the Texans. In our present day debate over immigration, let's not forget that we essentially stole Mexico and of course basically stole this country from the Indians. A good historical novel told in an entertaining way. I strongly recommend this as well as the first book by Meyer. An excellent author..
  • (5/5)
    Read from January 21 to February 03, 2014 A sweeping historical fiction about a Texas family full of an ugly past. This book had many things I love: family secrets, alternating POVs, and history. As the McCullough family story was laid before me, I was reminded of how harsh and absolutely brutal history is and it doesn't seem to ever stop repeating itself.The second half of the book seemed to slow down the pace -- Eli's younger years moved much more quickly than his later years, but still a book that will stick with you.
  • (4/5)
    Another book in the running for The Tournament of Books this year! (themorningnews.org/tob) What a sweeping epic this one is! There are three view points here, mainly The Colonel, a Texas cattleman who as a child survived an Indian kidnapping and life with them in the mid 19th century, the story of his son who is somewhat of an outcast among the cattlemen/oilmen in 1915 as he seems to be hesitant to murder an entire neighboring Mexican family for stealing horses, and his great granddaughter still at the ranch who is taking a really long time telling her story while lying on the floor dying. The book never gets boring, pretty fast paced, but how could it not be with multiple generations who have fought in at least three wars when the mid 19th century was a warzone itself? There are many "sons" here. But in my opinion, the book relies a little too much on brutality and the shock factor. There are many scalps and much torture. Maybe I am too sensitive to these things. Violence on all sides... the west really was a warzone back then and it really doesn't seem that long ago. I'm not sure how real it was for Indians to kill every person they ran into, unless it seemed they would lose. But the Texas rangers was just as bad. The book is very brutal and sometimes it seems it relies on that too much for an interesting story. If the writing skills are there, if the characters and the story are there, there doesn't need to be so much shock factor. I think there are writers who have writing styles that I love more, but wow this book is a beast... it's like you are actually living 200 years of history in the best possible way. With enough of the story going to three characters in the same family, it would have been interesting to see perspectives from another culture: one third of the book going to an Indian perspective and one third of the book going to a Mexican perspective, rather than the entire book staying with the rich white family. But really my only complaint is how brutal it is... I think this has to be the most violent book I've read. It's difficult to believe this won't go far in the tournament, as the book is constantly reminding me of big American classics. The Colonel's section reminded me of Mark Twain's 'Adventures of Huckleberry Finn' (maybe it's because he had a tree hammock 30 feet in the air he would sleep in), the granddaughter's story (in her childhood) reminded me of Harper Lee's Scout Finch and The Colonel's son's story reminded me of Steinbeck. Now those are some classics.
  • (4/5)
    This 2013 multi-generational novel spans events in Texas from the early 19th century to the present day, concentrating on Eli McCullough, (who at age 13 is captured by Comanches and fits right into their way of life, learning many able things and doing much evil as well), and on his son Peter (who is appalled by .the things his father does against the Mexicans who were in Texas long before the whites) and on Peter's granddaughter who lives into the present time. None of the characters in the novel are wholly admirable and some more evil than good. The book jumps between the characters in successive chapters and while I usually dislike that device in this case it did not annoy. The book is easy to read and holds one's interest, but it would have been neat to have some more admirable characters--but I suppose that would have made it unhistorical. It reminded me of Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove (read by me 17 Jan 1987) and of Edna Ferber's Giant (read July 11, 2007). It was good to see that Peter had adverse reactions to his father's evil doings but even Peter was a flawed man. It would have made a better novel if it had had more actual history in the account, though apparently the author did huge amounts of reading preparatory to writing the book, so one perhaps can rely on the book not being ahistorical--though when reading of the torture and murders one hoped it was,
  • (4/5)
    Multigenerational novel that covers white man's taming of Texas and fulfillment of Manifest Destiny. Reminiscent of a Michener novel. Eli's story is the most interesting to me: captured by Comanches, he lived with them for three years and the book describes aboriginal life pretty well. Reading through 21st century eyes, the killing and racism seems offensive, but I tried to put it in perspective of the period. That said, the human relationships haven't changed much and are good and well explained. Some of the 21st century euphemisms were apparent and not appreciated. Geographically, the book covered some familiar territory. I'd like to read some more by this author.
  • (5/5)
    One of the best ever.
  • (4/5)
    A sweeping historical novel about the Texans, the Mexicans, the Indians and a family that lives through it all. Very engaging read! The story-line did a wonderful job of weaving together the generations across 250+ years of history. A very clever and insightful story. Highly recommended.
  • (3/5)
    A multi-generational historical novel replete with land barons, oil tycoons, cowboys, bluecoats, Indian scalpings, shootouts, border raids… you name it. The author takes us on a romp through Texas history that should be everything you want in a novel, right?

    Well…. No, not really. The jumps back in forth in time were clunky. OK to be brutally honest most of the narrative was. There was almost no differentiation between the voices of Eli, Peter and Jeannie. The book was so painstakingly researched the only thing missing from my 7th grade Texas history book was the battle of The Alamo. That’s my whole problem with the book in a nutshell. I’m from Texas. I grew up hearing these stories. I took a mandatory year of Texas history. The author didn’t present the information in a way that was more interesting or offered a different perspective. On the very first page I said “Oh, it’s Charles Goodnight. About time someone wrote a book about him. Wait. Someone did. Larry McMurtry.”

    That being said, Meyer gets major points for portraying Jeannie McCullough’s difficulty trying to break through the glass ceiling in the oil business. The best parts of the book in my opinion. I was surprised they were written by a man. I have met very few men who understand the conflict and guilt women experience trying to have it all, how they are always “bossy” but never “the boss”.

    I’m sure someone new to the Border War or the history of the Comanches will find this book excellent.