Texas Old and New

The Son, by Philipp Meyer

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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.

 

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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

 

 

Visit my website here, where you’ll have an opportunity to download an audio eversion of my latest, Sam’s Place, as well as select book review podcasts. Then there’s my FB Fan Page here. On both you’ll find more on ideas and events that matter to me – and possibly to you.

 

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A New One

I write all sorts of stories. The one I'm on about here was inspired by a trip to Mexico over a decade ago. I had what you might call "creepy crawly" feelings down there – maybe so many ancient cultures leaving all sorts of feelings in the writerly ethers. At any rate, it's been a tough one to find the right home for – sort of like an ugly dog that barks too much and occasionally bites. 

 

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But finally Paul Anderson, an editor with Post Mortem Press liked what he saw in my story and – after some editing that challenged us both, I think – he took it. It'll be out soon in an anthology PMP is calling Torn Realities. If you like your time-space continuum slightly ragged, then you'll probably like my story, along with the others. Check out PMP here. After all, everyone likes bent reality and scary stuff, even when Halloween is months away.

It's slated to premiere at the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City at the end of March, so if you're in that area stop by. Otherwise look for your copy at PMP.

Crossing the Border

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End of the year magazine issues tend to be retrospectives, or the content seems more strained than usual. The January 2012 issue of Harper's Magazine seem to fall in line with the latter. However, there's one curious juxtaposition:

A piece of first person reportage by Cecelia Balli, "Calderon's War," exposes the way the war on drugs leaves the average Mexican citizen caught, if not in the well-reported crossfire between soldiers and drug gangs, then at least at the mercy of both in other ways. In a country as corrupt as Mexico has been, says Balli, reform and stability of the Law and Order variety is slow, but it's happening. Of course, this slowly fructifying stability will affect the U.S.in a positive way if it takes root.

Whech brings us to a memoir/essay by Alexandra Fuller, "Her Heart Inform Her Tongue." Fuller is from Rhodesia, a British colony of yesteryear that more or less assumed its independence sometime between 1965 and 1979, and she wrote this piece about a trip she and her daughter made to Mexico, ostensibly to learn Spanish. On the way to that, her thoughts returned to the conditions, the bloody days that fomented the move to Rhodesian independence. Why? She saw so much of that in Mexico.  

Both articles are, in a way, object lessons for us of the U.S. We're precariously perched on, hopefully, the other side of economic apocalypse, but there are predators all around us, who could send us backsliding. Just knowing how bad conditions have been and, for the most part, still are with our neighbor to the south, should make us work harder to maintain a middle class, to revive our egalitarian ethos, to basically live up to our ideals. And that will take honest pragmatism, not ideology-cloaking elitism, racism, and whatever other isms brought us to this place.