Texas brings out the big in novelists, especially the ones not from Texas. Edna Ferber hailed from Kalamazoo, Mich., while Philipp Meyer, who has written a tumultuous dynastic chronicle of Texas, is Baltimore bred. Indeed, I suspect Meyer’s “The Son” will strike the deepest chords with those to whom the Lone Star State seems a foreign country. Much like the Texas they may supersize in their minds, Meyer’s tale is vast, volcanic, prodigious in violence, intermittently hard to fathom, not infrequently hard to stomach, and difficult to ignore.
Spanning 200 years of Texas’s history, “The Son” out-giants Ferber’s “Giant” (not to say Meyer’s debut novel, “American Rust”) in both scope and ambition, although the author shares in his predecessor’s sense of a people hardened by standing their ground through the most devastating of hostilities. “The year [President Kennedy] died,” he writes, describing the muted reaction of one of his main characters, “there were still living Texans who had seen their parents scalped by Indians. The land was thirsty. Something primitive still in it.” Meyer concludes this passage on a mixed note of sorrow and steadfastness that permeates the book: “The blood that ran through history would fill every river and ocean, but despite all the butchery, here you were.”