four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
By: 
Jon Clinch
user_rating: 
0

A-Kings of the EarthJon Clinch’s award-winning debut novel, Finn ( 3 of 5 Stars May/June 2007), offered a portrait of Huck Finn’s violent, ex-con father. Kings of the Earth fictionalizes the case of the real-life Ward brothers, whose murder trial inspired the 1992 documentary Brother’s Keeper.

The Story: In a neglected, one-room farmhouse in upstate New York in 1990, Vernon Proctor--one of three elderly, reclusive brothers--dies in the bed he has shared with his brothers his entire life. After being put on trial for murder, his brother Creed, who signs a confession he can’t read, is acquitted. Using shifting, first- and third-person perspectives that span nearly six decades--from those of the three illiterate brothers to those of their delinquent nephew, a kind neighbor, and a state trooper--Kings of the Earth weaves together tales of the brothers’ hardscrabble existence: the death of their beloved, mentally ill mother and their father’s brutality, and the troubles, secrets, and deep fraternal bonds that defined their lives in rural America.
Random House. 416 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400069019

Dallas Morning News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Clinch’s poetic attention to the rural landscape and the broken fortitude and spot-on dialogue of his characters still resembles Cormac McCarthy, but Clinch’s second novel accomplishes more than simply mastering the sinister. His brilliant assemblage in Kings of the Earth showcases true grit and an oversize heart." Alex Lemon

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"These are honest, unsophisticated, uniquely American voices, from the three Proctor brothers--innocent, feral and shy--to their neighbors, the arresting officer and the brothers’ drug-dealing nephew. Their speech is not lyrical, but it has an honesty that becomes poetic, even Whitmanesque. ... But it is in the slow accumulation of details that the novel dazzles." Robert Goolrick

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Clinch is canny enough to move his characters through their own understated lives, hinting where he needs to as he skirts the obvious, and refusing to overlay a sense of morality on their actions. The reader is the jury." Scott Martelle

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"In plain prose, the chapter involving ice fishing is written with such intensity that it could stand alone as a spellbinding short story. Despite the often disgusting details that accompany the brothers going about their day, we like them, not just for their eccentricities, but for their decency and bond with each other." Mandy Twaddell

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"We’re given detailed portraits of a pig slaughter, of the bone-chilling cold of an uninsulated farmhouse, of what sheets look like when they haven’t been laundered in decades, of how these old men appeared to an outside eye. ... Clinch’s language is simple and his sentences rhythmic, like an old storyteller spinning a familiar yarn at leisure in front of a fire, and from it these characters gain an unexpected nobility." Moira Macdonald

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"It’s William Faulkner’s many-voiced 1935 technique in As I Lay Dying that Clinch employs in a tangled tale of murder, family, friendship and deep rural isolation. ... [A] troubling drama that offers its own alarming revelations about the human animal, about family, about the wafer-thin surface of civilization." Daniel Dyer

Critical Summary

Sometimes fiction is stranger, and more compelling, than truth--and this decidedly unromantic tale of rural America is just that. With a realism not often present in modern-day fiction, Clinch tells his story with a technique used by William Faulkner and in prose compared to that of Cormac McCarthy; he is eloquent and clear-eyed in everything--from his descriptions of the harsh landscape to the simple brothers’ grueling farm life. The short chapters offer unique perspectives from a mélange of characters over many decades, a technique that worked well for most critics. Described as an honest, compelling, and revelatory novel, Kings of the Earth "is the kind of fiction we should be reading" (Washington Post).