Best of the Half-Decade: Books
We’re a little freaked out that it’s almost 2015. The decade is half over! To try and make sense of time passing the Recorder staff is going to write about their favorite stuff from the past 5 years in a few installments between now and the end of the year. This month we’ll wax rhapsodic about our favorite books published since 2010.
The Western occupies a singular place in American popular culture and our national myths by straddling the divide between our agrarian past and industrial present. At its best it tells stories that serve to mythically resolve the tension between the many competing impulses of the American psyche. Blood Meridian and Lonesome Dove are the apotheosis of this genre as a novel, but last year saw a great new addition to the Western literary canon.
The Son, a Pultizer finalist written by Philipp Meyer, is a sprawling and magnificent Western that captures the blood and folly of conquest and the inevitable collapse of the conquerors. The novel centers on the fictional McCullough clan and uses a shifting POV structure to follow multiple generations of the family across nearly two centuries of Texas history. The novel’s most memorable character is Eli, a boy who is kidnapped and then adopted into the Comanche tribe in the 1840’s and carries their savagery and clear-sightedness for the remainder of his long life. He was the first child born in the new Republic of Texas in 1836 and personifies the state’s many-hued character across the century of violence and greed he lives through. His son, Peter, inherits his father’s wealth, but is haunted by guilt over how his family acquired its wealth and power. Eli’s great-grandaughter, Jeanne Anne, is equipped with the same base impulses as Eli, but finds that the world expects very different things from a woman and disrespects her for not acceding to the many swaggering men in her life.
The three-headed narrative can be disjointed at times, but Meyer uses muscular prose, shared themes, and a stunning dagger of a finale to tie them all together. Meyer leaves his readers gaping at the choices and chances that guarantee the success of one generation can only doom the next. In my opinion, The Son is a deserving new addition to the Literary Western cannon. [Read more…]