Lists in The Son

Native American tools found in Oregon In The Son, Philipp Meyer uses lists to great effect. Here are some examples:

"There was venison, elk, buffalo, quail and prairie dog, bones roasted so the marrow could be spread on meat or mixed with mesquite beans and honey for dessert. There were potatoes and onions, corn bread and squash they'd gotten from the New Mexicans. ... For corn, squash, and pumpkins, white and brown sugar, tortillas and hard breads, guns, powder, bar lead, and bullet molds. Ornaments for horses, percussion caps and steel knives, hatchets, axes and blankets, ribbons, linens and shrouds, gartering and gun screws, lance- and arrowheads, barrel hoops, bridles, steel wire, copper wire, gold wire, bells of all sizes, saddlebags, iron stirrups, iron pots, brass pots, mirrors and scissors, indigo and vermilion, glass beads and wampum, tobacco and tinder boxes, tweezers, combs, and dried fruit. The Comanches were the wealthiest of all the Indian tribes..."


"Depending on what was in season, I was also put to gathering. Fruit from the wokwéesi (prickly pear), tʉahpi (wild plum), and tuna-séka (persimmon), beans from the wohi?huu (mesquite), kʉʉka (wild onion), paapasi (wild potato), or mutsi natsamukwe (mustang grapes). I was not allowed to carry a knife or gun or bow, just a digging stick, and there were wolf and bear and panther tracks everywhere."

This is what mesquite beans look like: Mesquite beans

And these are prickly pear: Prickly pear

"In addition to making all the tools the band needed - axes, awls, needles, digging sticks, scrapers, knives and utensils - the women also made all the thread, rope, and twine."


"We slayed every living thing we laid eyes on - prairie chickens and prairie dogs, plovers and bobwhites, blacktail deer and antelope;"

A snowy plover. Eli killed a lot of these: A snowy plover

There are many more passages like these, all including the surprising or the new: animals or tools that are completely unknown to me, or of that particular time, or simply contextualised in a new way, just as the prickly pear is placed alongside its Comanche name, and next to other half-familiar food of the plains. At no point did I feel I was having research stuffed down my throat. Granted, some images were reused: we hear about the bile from the gall bladder uses as a sauce for the liver at least three times; bullet molds and percussion caps are listed as looted items several times. But the lists do not feel as if they are copied from a notebook page headed "artefacts of the milieu", they feel born of real enthusiasm and affection for the place and time. When I recognise that we're heading for a list, I am very much along for the ride.