The Aesthete

Lone Star

Philipp Meyer presents his highly anticipated second novel, an intensely researched saga about a boy captured by Comanche in 1850s Texas

by Roxane Gay photography Thea Goldberg

He has been compared to John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Cormac McCarthy and Ernest Hemingway. As you might imagine, the burden of expectations Philipp Meyer shoulders is mighty, indeed. In 2009, Meyer published his first novel, American Rust, to great acclaim. He parlayed that success into a reported $1 million advance for his second novel, The Son, which has already earned a great deal of buzz. Some even say this book will win the Pulitzer.

“If someone is killed, I want it to be seen as a loss of a human being. The simplest thing is, don’t make it too beautiful.”

The Son is a sprawling, violent epic spanning 175 years of Texas history, told from three generations of a Texas family across three eras. Meyer was trying to upend the American creation myths of popular imagination, where either Anglos arrived at an unpopulated wilderness and just happened to be attacked by Indians or that Indians were essentially peaceful people who were morally, physically and spiritually superior to the evil Anglo. “Both of these mythologies reduce these people, who were actual human beings, to characters,” Meyers says. He was careful, in the writing, to focus on humanity, particularly when depicting the violence of people fighting for land and life and liberty. “If someone is killed, I want it to be seen as a loss of a human being. The simplest thing,” Meyer says, “is don’t make it too beautiful.”

Before the buzz, though, many wondered if The Son would fall prey to the so-called curse of the second novel. “Everyone told me the book is going to suck,” Meyer says, matter-of-factly. He did not let those warnings intimidate him. In the fourth of the five years it took to write The Son, Meyer realized, “This book is actually better. It’s a much broader book, there’s humor in it, it’s philosophically wittier.” Now that the book has been released, Meyer is happy with what he’s written. “I feel like it’s right, it’s correct, it’s the way the book is supposed to be.” 

Meyer comes across as a very confident writer who trusts in his craft. He writes the books he wants to read, as he believes all writers should, and considers himself his ideal reader. Meyer