Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch

Random House, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

Jon Clinch’s first novel, Finn was one of my “Best Books” in 2007.  I wasn’t blogging or writing reviews but I remember it struck me as bold, dealing with the father of  American icon Huckleberry Finn, and very well written.  I was very excited to learn that Clinch has written a second novel.

Based on a true story, Kings of the Earth is about the Proctor brother living on an antiquated farm in upstate New York.  Rooted in the past, the brothers turn away from social contact and change.  Then one of them dies and a local policeman suspects murder.  The book is made up of brief chapters, told in many different voices, over a period of  sixty or so years.  These chapters are like the shards of a mirror, reflecting different views of a whole.

The voices are weighted with their own histories and perspectives.  The writing is plain-spoken and quite beautiful.

They rounded the one last curve onto that level stretch past my lamp-post and in the light of it I saw Vernon at the wheel as usual, with Creed beside him holding on.  They were both looking steady and hard into the night as if they’d been expecting trouble all the way from town and hadn’t seen any of it yet but wouldn’t quit looking for it just in case.  Behind them with his feet hooked on a piece of plow chain was Audie, balanced on the back end of that tractor like some kind of trick rider.  He had his eyes shut tight and his arms out to both sides like wings, and he was flying.  Flying on that tractor in the dark.  All the way up the road from town. 37.

Mainly they wanted to know about Vernon’s relationships with his brothers.  She said his relationships were fine although they weren’t exactly ordinary.  They asked what she meant by that and she said her brothers stuck together in a way that most people don’t anymore.  A way that most people probably can’t even imagine.  Whether it was from their close relations or from the demands of farm life or from something else, something more primitive, she didn’t know.  Sometimes she thought they had some kind of group consciousness, if that made any sense.  Donna – page 135.

Every character speaks clearly and directly, in a distinct voice.  I found the most telling voices to be those of the three brothers Vernon, Audie and Creed.  These are match by their mother, Ruth, speaking from the grave.  I think  this is a true American novel and I think Clinch is a fine author.  He respects and trusts his readers, and he honors the story.

“In literature as in life, we have a duty to see that nothing important should ever be lost.” From the afterward.

Clinch based Kings of the Earth on the case of the Ward Brothers, who lived outside a small town in upstate New York.  Their lives are documented in a fine film, Brother’s Keeper, directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky.


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, Review

7 responses to “Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch

  1. Ti

    I have a copy of this one but haven’t opened it yet. I loved Finn…so I have high hopes for this one as well. It sounds as if you enjoyed it. I sure hope I do.

  2. I also really liked this book and appreciated the author’s ability to speak in different voices contrasting the common sense compassion of Preston with the vileness of DeAlton. I also liked the subtlety of his handling of father/son relationships. So much was told without much being said.

    I had not heard of Finn but it sounds interesting. My son is currently reading Huckleberry Finn for his AP Literature class. If he has to read something modern, I may recommend Finn.

    Thanks for the review.


    • PB – Thanks for visiting and for your comments. Finn is very dark, depending on how old your son is you might want to check it out first.

      • He is 3 months shy of 18. His friends are more eclectic readers then he is but I like to have several suggestions for him to choose from and Finn looks like a good possibility.

      • I think Finn would be a fine suggestion!

  3. Pingback: My Favorite Books of 2010 | Page247

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