Mr. Mealer, who covered war in the Congo for the Associated Press and Harper’s magazine, has impressive reporter’s chops as well as a native West Texan’s gift for storytelling. The combination produces the best kind of twofer: an engaging history of the oil patch wrapped in an intimate portrait of his own family ... At this sort of tale-telling Mr. Mealer excels, turning the lives of ordinary working people—three generations of his family—into powerful stories of folks trying, one way or another, to pull themselves just one rung up the ladder in the face of seemingly endless economic obstacles ... And for once, this isn’t just a story of men, but of the women who held things together—or didn’t. The women in The Kings of Big Spring suffer in all the familiar ways, becoming ever more acquainted with loss as farms and children and even the smallest fortunes disappear.
Author Bryan Mealer sets his tale against the backdrop of seminal currents in 20th-century American life: the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl migration, the boom and bust of Texas oil fields. Generations of the Mealer family live, love, fight, drink and scratch for a living in an often unforgiving world, bemoaning the ‘Mealer luck’ with every new misfortune … Mealer, a veteran journalist, is an excellent writer. His prose is warm and lively. But his story ultimately fails to reach its goal. We learn a great deal about how one family dealt with its own struggle for existence. We’re offered few insights on why their struggle would matter to anyone outside their orbit.
To say that Bryan Mealer's The Kings of Big Spring is a sprawling family saga is something of an understatement. It takes two pages of genealogical trees to identify the Mealers through the decades, and the timeline covers nearly a century and a quarter … Mealer includes several portraits of men who made fortunes in the oil business, men like Josh Cosden and Raymond Tollett — while the Mealers kept struggling to stay afloat … Writers about Texas seem drawn to big-scale stories, and Mealer's family-based narrative stands alongside other recent epic-sized efforts to extract drama from pioneers to the present, books like Roger D. Hodge's Texas Blood and Philipp Meyer's The Son.