The Son by Philipp Meyer is a fantastic novel by the author of American Rust (one of my favorites). I haven’t seen the TV adaptation – and I don’t plan to since the book is that good.
The book is about several generations of a family that settled on the Texas frontier and lives there to the current day.
It’s a bit of a sprawling novel reminiscent of East of Eden. I was skeptical of it at first, but it is superbly structured – I kept up with the characters and the plot throughout and only had to refer to the character glossary a few times.
What I Liked
I loved, loved, loved the setting. I could tell that the author had spent years in the physical place; in interviews with old families; and in historical archives. The book is fiction, but it does what all the best historical fiction does – allows you to sort of life or imagine living a life in a different place & time. His descriptions are not over the top nor do they dominate the book. But wow, I could clearly sense every part of every scene.
I loved how he dug into and owned the world’s complexity. So often, the further you go in history, the simpler & more black / white the world looks. But the world was just as complex & human in 1830 as it will be in 2030. The plot runs through some very nuanced and difficult situations I thought the author pulled off very well.
Everything else that you’d want in a novel – engaging characters, good pacing, engaging writing – The Son had.
What I Did Not Like
The book is violent. Crazy violent. I would not want to see the TV adaptation. It was a very violent time and a very violent place, and I don’t think the author is gratuitous at all, but still—just a heads up.
The American frontier was a very complex world. Pull on one thread, and the complexity keeps coming.
As much as we all want to think of ourselves as established, self-made individuals – we’re all one link in different sequences of humans. The past does not define each of us, but it affects us in ways we don’t appreciate.
So much American history seems long ago, but in terms of generations, it’s very recent. In other words, it doesn’t take many “great-greats” to return to early American history.