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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Tex-Mex as you've never experienced it

I can tell the truth now. I picked a novel for one of my book groups last month that I didn’t think most people would like. Mind you, “liking” the book isn’t a terribly high priority. We want to read and talk about books that have literary merit, are worthy of our time and effort and help us learn something about ourselves and our world.

I chose “The Son,” by Philipp Meyer, a novel told in journal-like entries focusing on the Texans, Mexicans and Comanche Indians who have lived in the southern borderland since the 1800s. I picked it initially because most reviewers gave it high marks. Meyer is also the author of “American Rust,” a work critics hailed as an impressive debut novel.

What I learned was the dark, bloody history of southern Texas, including the repeated, violent encounters among Texans, Indians and Mexicans, the despicable treatment of Mexicans by the Texas settlers and the fascinating culture of the Comanche tribe, a people who, for all intents and purposes, were wiped out and lost to history. The book spans 200 years and six generations. Meyer’s gorgeous language is a poetic counterpoint to the fragmented journal entries and the brutality of the story.

Three people tell the tale in “The Son.” We meet Eli, 8, on the day he is kidnapped from his family’s cabin in rural Texas and taken captive by the Comanche. Much later, he becomes patriarch of the McCullough family, a powerful Texas clan. Then there is Jeanne, born in 1926, who tells the story of her life on the McCulloughs’ mega-ranch, from her youth to her dying days in 2012. And we read about Peter, one of the family’s sons, living on the homestead, which ran many miles in every direction, land first used to raise cattle and then to produce oil.

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