Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Guest post: Who'd have thought I'd read this book: The Son by Philipp Meyer

Who'd have thought Jane Riley would read this book?

Today's post is by guest blogger Jane Riley. Jane is a freelance writer who also owns online design store, Who'd Have Thought? Take it away, Jane!

I heard Tim Winton speak recently, as part of the promotional tour for his new book, Eyrie. One of the comments he made struck me as the key to successful writing:

'Readers these days are bombarded by the now. You have to hook them immediately and make them want to not only sit down with your book, but stay with it to the very end. It is the immediacy of the writing, the skill of throwing the reader in the deep end that makes you want to keep on reading.'

So when I sat down with American novelist Philipp Meyer’s latest book, The Son, it was with an element of trepidation. Despite having read – and enjoyed - his first, highly applauded book, American Rust, I wasn’t sure if The Son would keep me page-turning because not everything about it appealed.

At 561 pages and the size of a brick it is the sort of book I would normally shun for something less hefty and, therefore, less time-consuming to read. Then there’s its premise: a violent cowboy and Indian family saga are words that describe books I usually never read. So why did I?

Meyer got me hooked on the first sentence:

‘It was prophesied I would live to see 100 and having achieved that age I see no reason to doubt it.’ It is the start of a multi-generational, multi viewpoint historical epic that spans from the Comanche raids of the mid-1800s to the oil boom of the 20th century. It transports you to the arid Texan plains back when the frontier was made from grit, spilt blood and a hell of a lot of tenacity. It was true survival of the fittest. And many didn’t.

I may have had to skim over several pages of brutal violence - ‘The only problem was keeping your scalp attached,’ says Eli at the end of chapter one – but I was swept along by the individual stories Meyer tells and the history he recreates so vividly and accurately from extensive research.

I was there when Eli loses his family and is kidnapped by the Comanches only to rise within their ranks. I was there when Jeanne fought against chauvinism and societal norms to head the family’s oil business. I was there when Peter rejects his father and runs away with a Mexican girl.

Like Winton, Meyer puts the reader in the heart of the action. He saddles you up and takes you along for the ride through 100 years of a part of American history you probably knew little about. Sometimes it’s a gallop, sometimes a canter, but never in nearly 600 pages do you ever trot, let alone stop.
It's a testament to Meyer’s writing skill that he can sustain us, the readers, in such a way for such a long time.

And you know what? I gobbled it all up – at times reading late into the night. So, I would like to rephrase the book’s premise and call it a rollicking good literary ride that takes you to a place you’re glad you can now only read about.

I didn’t want it to end. Who’d have thought?

Jane Riley is a Sydney-based freelance writer and owner of online design store,  Who'd Have Thought? which showcases unique gifts and homewares from around the world. The theme: creative reinventions and design innovations; the idea: to make you think, 'who'd have thought?' She also writes a blog which features interviews with artists and creatives and other quirky and interesting stuff going on in the world. 

Photograph of Jane Riley by Hannah Riley.

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