Kings of the Earth
By Jon Clinch
The Short of It:
Stark, gritty but beautiful to behold.
The Rest of It:
At the beginning of the year, I read and reviewed Finn, which was Clinch’s debut novel. I knew then, that I’d be looking for his next book and sure enough, Kings of the Earth managed to find its way into my hands.
Kings of the Earth tells the story of the Proctor brothers, Vernon, Audie and Creed. The Proctors live on a dilapidated farm in upstate New York. Vernon, the oldest Proctor, believes he is dying of the same cancer that took his mother many years ago. Audie is feeble-minded and often oblivious to what’s going on around him. Creed is the youngest, yet the only one who’s seen the “real” world, so his time on the farm is especially tragic.
Work and woe had done to these men not their worst but just their usual, which was enough. (152)
Besides the boys, there is a sister, Donna. Donna somehow manages to slip away from farm life and lives with her husband in a nearby town. She visits the boys often and does what’s needed on her end, but she is careful and keeps her distance when possible. Mostly as a protective measure because it’s clear that she loves her brothers dearly.
The story opens with Vernon’s death. It’s assumed that cancer is the cause, but an autopsy says otherwise. Clinch tells the story in short, snippets. Not chapters really, but brief, alternating points of view. We hear from the brothers, Donna, the parents, the neighbors and law enforcement while going back and forth in time.
Although this method of storytelling is complex and not easy to pull off, Clinch manages to do it beautifully. Clinch’s description of farm life left me with dust on my shoes and a bit of grit in my mouth. I have a term that I like to use for novels like this, “atmospheric fiction.” The other books that I’ve read that have fallen into this category are Cormac McCarthy’s Outer Dark and Child of God. All of them being incredibly detailed and rounded with rough edges.
Although very rich, and nicely told, I was expecting (and wanting) a slightly different ending. However, I sat on my reaction for several weeks and let it roll around in my head. Now that some time has passed, I see the appropriateness of the ending. It really could not have ended any other way.
I was not aware of it as I was reading the book but the Proctor brothers are loosely based on the Ward brothers who also lived on a rural farm in upstate New York.
If you choose to pick-up this book, I don’t think you will be disappointed and in fact, you may find a new favorite author to add to your list.
Source: Sent to me by the publisher.