Well, once again, an award winning book I wanted to read. This one, by Philipp Meyer, was the runner-up to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (which I still have not read). I am discovering with literary fiction as opposed to genre fiction, there is no clear denouement, oftentimes there is no real denouement at all, not compared to what you are used to in genre fiction, where there’s a bad guy or event, and then the bad guy or event is stopped, end of story. I know I am oversimplifying things, but still….
But, this book. It is so good, The Goldfinch is going to have to be damned good to justify beating The Son for the Pulitzer for fiction. Told in alternating views, the story begins in 1836, when Eli McCullough’s family is raided by Comanches. Eli’s is the first voice in the book. The Comanches kill his mother and sister, and take Eli and his brother hostage. Eli eventually is assimilated into the Comanche tribe and adopted by the chief. Although they are by far the bloodiest and most vicious characters in the book, the Comanches are also the most likeable.
Eli’s son, Peter, is another voice in the story. He’s not the man his father (who now goes by the moniker “Colonel”) wants him to be – he has too much of a conscious and is somewhat stuck in the past his father has described to him for years. Peter has a wife and three children, all of whom seem to hate him because he’s not the Colonel.
Jeannie McCullough is the third voice. Jeannie is the Colonel’s great-granddaughter, and she worships the Colonel (who lives to be 100). Jeannie has fought her entire life to be one of the boys, first with her father and brothers, and then in the business world. Jeannie is essentially not happy.
Their stories are all woven together to a tragic end in each generation. Meyer’s language is beautiful and the characters so real, so three dimensional, you really do hate some of them. (I did actually really like the Colonel, but more when he was Eli/Tiehteti – his Comanche name). As I said above, the Comanches are the best characters in the book, and so painful to read about, given what we know now about how their tribes were decimated. It’s such an earnest portrayal of the American Indian and the West, and there’s even a comment by the Colonel where he derides the way history has portrayed the West.
Terrific, breathtaking book! Wonderfully written and captivating. This is my first read by Meyer, and I look forward to reading his American Rust and any future endeavors. Meyer is also inspirational, in that he kept plugging along until he could write. This book was an epic tale that evoked memories of reading James Michener (himself the winner of the Pulitzer in 1948) and John Jakes. Great book, definitely a recommend.