Brutal frontier

 

The Son
Philipp Meyer
592 pages, softcover:
$16.99.
Ecco, 2014.

"The land was hard on its sons, harder yet on the sons of other lands," writes

Philipp Meyer in The Son, a masterful, gripping portrait of America's Western expansion told through the lives of one Texas family.

The Son braids together the stories of three members of the McCullough family, who first came to Texas in 1832 when it was still part of Mexico. The future patriarch of the family is the charming and canny Eli McCullough, eventually known simply as "the Colonel," who was born in 1836, the year Texas became an independent republic.

When Eli is 13, Comanches kidnap him, killing his mother and siblings. Eli's toughness impresses his captors, who adopt him into the tribe. The Comanche sections are rigorously researched – the author drank buffalo blood and tanned hides – and vividly rendered, and they form the heart of the book. Although the Comanches are often shown to be merciless, Meyer reveals the grace and humanity of this horse-centered culture, and we mourn along with Eli when they dwindle.

Meyer weaves in excerpts from the diaries of Peter McCullough, Eli's son, uneasy with the ruthlessness that surrounds him. "How two men from the same stock might be so different," Peter muses, "my father likely reckons my mother snuck off for congress with some poet, scrivener, or other nearsighted sniveling half-man." In 1915, Peter's son, Glenn, is shot and wounded, and the perpetrator is believed to be a member of the Garcia family, the neighboring landowners. Back then, Texans were willing to kill Mexicans with little provocation, and the community's revenge is swift and disproportionate.

The third narrative strand that brings the epic to the present day is that of Jeanne Anne, who takes after her great-grandfather, Eli, in her toughness and practicality and becomes the proprietor of the McCullough land, cattle and oil holdings. She muses about the character of the new generation; Eli, she thinks, had "provided for all of them, and they'd become soft, they'd become people he never would have respected."

Meyer captures the inner lives of these characters while stripping the romance from the standard Western narrative. He portrays Texas as a place of Hobbesian mayhem, where life is often nasty, brutish and short, but even something as violent as a Comanche raid has a kind of unforgettable, bloody beauty.

High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.