Texas Old and New

The Son, by Philipp Meyer


Meyer has written a great, sprawling tale of Texas in The Son, and its passage from the land of Comanches and feral cattle to the Lone Star State’s version of modernity. To depict this passage, the author gives us the McCullough family, beginning with adventurous grand sire Eli in the 1820s and ending with his effete descendants in the twenty-first century. Meyer has done himself proud, not only in researching Texas’ history, but in giving us a clear-eyed view of that history’s underlying psychology. In essence, Meyer’s Texas is a land in which precedents of the strong taking from the weak still governs.

As the story begins, the McCulloughs are exacting revenge on a Hispanic family, the Garcias, because a Garcia is reputed to have attempted to kill a McCullough. It’s deemed proper to exterminate the Garcia family and take their lands: the Garcias have outlived their three hundred-year husbandry of the land, and it’s time for the WASPs to ascend. But Eli’s son Peter isn’t so sure this is the right thing. Father Eli allows the near-extermination of the Garcia family to go forward, and a rift appears between Eli and Peter that only grows wider as time passes.







Meyer gives us this tale in three forms. First, a third-person account of Peter’s grand-daughter, Jeannie, who’s caught between the worlds of oil and cattle, between the old and the new. Then there’s Peter’s ongoing story in diary form, followed by a first person tale of Eli, kidnapped by the Comanches in his youth, his three years with them, then his struggle to bridge the Comanche world and that of Texas’ early white culture. Such structuring has become de rigueur in modern fiction writing, and that’s not always a good thing. But Meyer uses the technique to good effect in juxtaposing Native American culture against white, Hispanic against both, and Texas’ ongoing evolution.

The book is an ambitious undertaking and of great value in plumbing this significant portion of the U.S.’s psyche. Still, some of Meyer’s story seems to exist only to display his historical research. And his passive voice holds the reader at arm’s length, while his characters and story urge the reader toward an intimacy with them that’s never consummated.

No fiction is perfectly executed, and while Meyer seems to have overreached a bit in conceiving this story, he clearly realizes that Texas is itself a story, and perhaps a key to understanding the whole of the American experiment.


My rating: 17 of 20 stars



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