Kings of the Earth
By Jon Clinch
Completed November 1, 2011
Kings of the Earth may be written in simple prose, but the themes of this book are complex and thought-provoking. Though I finished the book yesterday, I am still trying to sort through it all a day later. Hopefully, I can muster up a good enough review to compel people to read this book. It’s powerful and a damn good story.
The book revolves around three unmarried brothers who live on a dairy farm in northern New York. Raised poor, they live a simple, sheltered life. They think nothing of not bathing, sharing the same bed or riding a tractor to town. They smell, have rotten teeth and work their fingers to the bone. One night, the oldest man, Vernon, dies in bed with his two brothers along side of him. As part of procedure, Vernon’s body was taken to the medical examiner, who determines that Vernon may have been strangled, forcing the police to take a hard look at Vernon’s brothers: Audie, a simple-minded man with poor linguistic skills, and Creed, an unsophisticated man who doesn’t easily make associations or connections. Did one of Vernon’s brothers kill him?
The book is told from a myriad of perspectives – each one with its own voice and personality. The brothers alternate their stories and histories (I always liked Audie’s chapters). The reader also meets Preston, the boys’ neighbor who acts as an unofficial guardian to them; Donna, the boys’ sister who lives in town; Tom, the boys’ nephew who is growing marijuana on their farm – and many other characters. Surprisingly, the multiple viewpoints are not confusing and add a great deal of depth to the story.
Kings of the Earth is not merely a “who done it” – but a look at a way of life much simpler than ours. By the novel’s end, I was moved by each character in some way, especially Vernon, Audie and Creed. None had an easy life, by our standards, but they didn’t see it that way. They just endured. Kings of the Earth is gritty, written in a style like Cormac McCarthy or Robert Olmstead, but will touch your heart and your soul. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. ( )