three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
19-Nov-Dec-2005
user_rating: 
0

A-KingKingsCountyThe highway’s coming through Kansas City, and Alton Acheson plans to ride its concrete ribbon to the full height of American glory. "It’s going to be the biggest land grab since Tom Durant stole half of Iowa for the Union Pacific," he says, "and I’d like to run it." His attempts involve jostling local bastions of power, conning farmers, and carrying on in a booming voice. Alton’s son Jake, reluctantly complicit in Alton’s schemes, relates these (mis)adventures. Playing picnicker as his father surveys local farmlands and witnessing business liaisons over Thanksgiving dinner, Jack’s acute embarrassment comes not only from moral misgivings but also from the disparity between his father’s aspirations and his actual buffoonery.
Viking. 361 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0670034258

Entertainment Weekly 4 of 5 Stars
"[I]t’s also a coming-of-age story, as told over five decades by Alton’s abashed, admiring, and resentful son, Jack. . . . Scenes of [Jack’s] forced participation in his elite school’s football games are downright poignant, if you can just stop laughing." Gillian Flynn

Kansas City Star 4 of 5 Stars
"Whitney Terrell’s storytelling rolls with all the ease of the gently undulating plains of Kings County. . . . Immersing yourself in Jack’s story is a pleasure; it glides along smoothly, with perfectly paced narrative pull." Kathleen Johnson

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Terrell brilliantly dramatizes the confluence of federal funding, state zoning, racial tensions, family ideals and local shenanigans that created the places in which most of us live and work. . . . An immense amount of historical and financial research underpins The King of Kings County, and yet all that detail is gracefully integrated into a story that is essentially about fathers and sons, the way each generation creates or miscreates a home for the next one." Ron Charles

Rocky Mountain News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Terrell continues his exploration of the themes of coming-of-age, family relationships, racism and the American dream with all its complexities and contradictions. The King of Kings County is not without problems. . . . [But] Terrell has written an enjoyable book." Mary J. Elkins

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Unlike Lewis’ Babbitt, Acheson, as cynical a scoundrel at the beginning of the book as he is at the end, never questions the meaning of his life or shows an interest in any of his colleagues. . . . Its weak character development aside, Whitney Terrell’s The King of Kings County presents a fascinating view of the behind-the-scenes workings of some truly American commercial scams." Edward Hower

People Weekly 3 of 5 Stars
"The fallout from his get-rich-quick schemes—including moving a black community into white neighborhoods to lower property values—at first embarrasses Jack, then leads him to pity Alton. . . . Fans of cynical narratives and damaged heroes (those who found Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections light reading, for example) will take to The King of Kings County, but others will be put off by Terrell’s reverential treatment of dysfunctional relationships." Jonathan Durbin

Critical Summary

Terrell’s debut novel, 2001’s The Huntsman, earned him comparisons with William Faulkner and Herman Melville. This second novel, which falls into the same "real estate" camp as Richard Ford’s Independence Day, Steven Millhauser’s Martin Dressler, and Jane Smiley’s Good Faith, continues to chart Kansas City on the literary map. Terrell successfully renders the drama of Americana, with its capitalistic aspirations, racial complexity, and familial rites amid the bunting and rolling stage of Kings County. Although his female characters are little more than passing scenery, and the story’s pace can be occasionally plodding, Terrell has still managed to delve into familiar lands and procure our own unfamiliar, throbbing soul, that meshwork of grand visions, petty cons, sons, fathers, and cheap land.