In his much-admired debut, American Rust, Philipp Meyer’s characters were casualties of the steel industry’s collapse in America’s northeast. Now he switches his attention to the southwest in a novel similarly drawn to decay, defeat and death – of Mexican rule, native American tribes, the Confederacy, the cattle trade – as the stories of three members of the same Texan family, whose lives span 175 years, unfold.
Eli McCullough, the dynasty’s founding patriarch, is born in 1836 and taken captive by Comanches as a boy in a raid in which his mother and sister are brutally killed. Being raised as an Indian warrior shapes the kill-or-be-killed, rob-or-be-robbed mentality that later serves him well as he acquires land and becomes a cattle baron.
Known as the Colonel after taking part in the Civil War, Eli is a hundred when he dies. His longevity means he is still around between 1915 and 1920 when Peter, the titular son (by then middle-aged), writes the journal that forms the novel’s second strand.
Peter, too, is shaped by