Can 522 reviewers be wrong in rating Philipp Meyer’s The Son at 5 stars on the amazon web site? My answer to that questions is yes. However, to be fair, other book club members thoroughly enjoyed this ponderous volume featuring a Texas ranching/oil family.
Topping out at 592 pages, The Son consists of three interlinking accounts, written in somewhat different formats and styles, relating their story from the 19th to the early 21st century.
Throughout Meyer’s historical novel, the McCullough family is represented by three key characters: Colonel Eli McCullough, who was kidnapped at an early age by the Comanche tribe; his son, Peter, who was deeply affected by the massacre of Mexican neighbors for their land, and Peter’s granddaughter, Jeanne, a savvy oil heiress.
- The first is the progression from an agrarian/cattle-based economy to an oil-based one.
- Another is man’s inhumanity to man as seen in the brutal land grab and the degradation of those ”not belonging” such as the Comanches, Mexicans and lower-class whites.
- Lastly, the blood that runs through human history with Texas as a microcosm. (There certainly was plenty of blood!!)
Even though many reviewers considered the novel a great read, just as many found fault with Meyer’s frequent and casual use of modern dirty words found in depressing and sadistic passages.
Unlikable cardboard characters with no redeeming values was another complaint. Most often criticized was Meyer’s constant flipping between time periods and narrators.
Starting with both the beginning and end and finishing with both the beginning and end left one reviewer totally confused and greatly annoyed with the lengthy Texan saga. (See Discussion Question # 6.)
Should your book club choose to read, The Son, discussion questions have been provided below:
1. Characterize the three generations of the McCullough family that form the basis of Meyer’s epic novel: their strengths, their weaknesses, their idiosyncrasies.
2. How would the old cliché, ‘Money can’t buy happiness’ serve as a fitting moral to this novel of early Texas?
3. Does Meyer’s liberal use of gratuitous sex, smutty language, and barbaric behavior gear this novel toward a male audience? What alterations would help the novel appeal to a wider readership?
4. Unhappy at the Greenfield Boarding School, Jeannie McCullough sells her pearls to buy a train ticket for home. (She had seen the world and retreated.) How does this action shape the rest of her life?
5. The novel skips from the 1830s to the 1940s to 1917, then 1840 to 1985 and back again. What was the author’s purpose in this unusual organization? How would the story have been affected if Meyer had used chronological order instead?
6. One reviewer claimed that The Son’s actions starts with the beginning and the end and finishes with the beginning and the end. How did the novel actually begin? How did it end?
7. Who is The Son?
8. The reader is introduced in depth to Eli McCullough (The Colonel), the Colonel’s middle son, Peter, and Jeanne Anne (Jeannie) his great granddaughter. Which character did you find the most interesting? Most likable? Least appealing? Why?
9. Why did the Colonel and Phineas insist that Maria Garcia leave the house and the area?
10. Who or what was the dark figure Peter sees leaning on the banister? ‘First he had a face like my fathers, then it was my own, then it was something else.’ When did the dark figure disappear?
11. How can you explain the following: ‘White children take so quickly to Indian ways while Indian children never do.’
12. How are the following themes reflected in The Son: Change-both in generations and the economy and man’s inhumanity to man?
13. One reviewer described Meyer as a, ‘Baltimore Yankee who doesn’t like Texas very much’. Can you cite examples that support or refute this person’s opinion?