The 2014 Tournament of Books is here, and The Voyage Out will be spending a lot of time over the next month or so talking about this wonderfully book nerdy thing. I hope you enjoy our coverage.
It should be noted that I am a Texan. This is only important in that I live in Texas, and we are weird about people having anything to do with the Lonestar state that are not themselves Texans. I don’t know exactly how long Philipp Meyer has lived in Texas, but I can assure it’s not long enough to be a Texan. Baltimore is a fine place to be from, so we won’t blame him too much for not being born here.
That said, it is also traditional to have an outsider write the definitive text on a place they are not born into. A new eye can sometimes add a wonderful new color to a story of a place. Nabokov wrote the Great American Novel despite being an adopted American, de Toqueville wrote one of the best early looks at how things are done in this country, and, recently, the great British director Steve McQueen’s movie 12 Years a Slave has brought a new focus to America’s worst bad time. So, can someone from Maryland write the Great Texas Novel? Why not?
The Son opens with one of the more violent scenes in all of Literature. A Comanche raid on a family of Texas homesteaders ends in enslavement, rape, and death. It is a tough scene to read, and is a perfect early test to see if you are willing to read this book. Meyer doesn’t ease into anything. He opens with a punch, and keeps punching away, until the reader is as beaten as the ground in a Texas summer. The book then goes on to tell the story of Texas over 150 years. 150 years! You’ll meet the same types of memorable characters that made Lonesome Dove so great: Eli, who would become the Colonel, the adopted Comanche, Eli’s son Peter, and the moneyed Jeanne Anne. It’s a big book, and there are more characters, but with equal parts family, place, and History, Meyers structures a sublimely rendered work of historical fiction.
If you can read only one Texas book ever, I’d still go with Lonesome Dove. But, if you can read two books on Texas , The Son wouldn’t be a bad second choice.
Maybe Brownsville by Oscar Casares… You should be reading more Texas books.
How will the book do in ToB? Well, I think. It’s a traditional novel and is well written. Meyer seems poised to become the next big name American writer, and this book is epic. If it runs into a reviewer who is particularly timid about violence, then it will be stopped in its tracks. As is the case with all books in this competition, the judge draw will be a big deal.