It's 1849. A frontier cabin outside the recently founded Fredericksburg, Texas. Teenaged Eli McCullough is kidnapped by the Comanche, his mother and siblings slaughtered. Eli's gradually incorporated into the tribe, taught to shoot a bow and hunt. Taught to go on raiding parties and kill. And then he's forced back into white civilization, a 16-year-old going on 40: first a curiosity, then an outcast, then a Texas Ranger. This is the book you want to read this summer.Philipp Meyer's The Son (Ecco, $28) is the follow-up to his debut, American Rust, which made his name one to remember.
Like his first book, it pulses and bleeds and twitches. Every facet of Meyer's world - scent and sight and sensation - has weight and heft. The details about small arms and artillery. Details about flora and fauna. Details about the Comanche. The Comancheros. Texans. You feel the arrow wounds and smell the gun smoke. You taste the oil that the characters pull from the ground, hear the horses nickering, see Old West vistas as magnificent as those you'll find in a John Ford film. (There's a set piece in the book in which a young Eli must prove himself to the Comanche by participating in a raid against the Delaware that I'd put up against anything you'll find by McMurtry or A. B. Guthrie Jr.) Here, history is not a thing to look back on and judge through the lens of our moral superiority. History is a tragedy-unavoidable, inevitable-that grows out of basic human frailty and the desire to survive.Meyer's dream is a nightmare in which blood seeks power. It's also unput- down-able.