New book - The Son by Phillip Meyer

Cover for The Son Today I started a new book: The Son, by Philipp Meyer. Sometimes choosing a new book is easy and sometimes it is hard. Today it was hard.

My wife and my bookseller said The Son is really good. The reviews were extraordinarily positive but I've read some extraordinary books recently so they'd better be. The cover art is terrible and it's two inches thick. The first line in the acknowledgements is cocky: "Thanks to my publisher, Dan Halpern, a fellow artist who gets it." The real first line is linguistically confusing and try-hard: "It was prophesied that I would live to see one hundred and having achieved that age I see no reason to doubt it."

The first three chapters are short, almost vignettes, and the forth is long and gruesome. All are excellent. There is wonderfully engrossing detail of frontier life: the 'Indians' stuffing the pages of stolen books into their shields to fend off bullets; preachers who "if they ain't sparkin' your daughters, or eatin' all the fried chicken and pie in your icebox, they're cheatin' your sons on horses." There are words I'd never heard before: acreocracy, catamount, pigweed. Things I know are brought to life with new connotations: Natalia considers sassafras tea and mulberries low class.

There is research into the dwellings and firearms, and the language and the food. I cannot say to the veracity of any of it, but when Eli goes to fish by the river I caught a brief sense that this might have been the reality for such frontier boys. Not the ventriloquist's sense of firm reality that you get from Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall, but neither is research laid out too obviously on a page. It is a little obvious.

The structure of the novel, a chapter per individual, spanning the centuries, promises a fascinating comparison between attitudes and eras. If handled well and if the research allows the milieus to convince, then it's going to be an excellent read.