Kings of the Earth
by Jon Clinch
Following up Finn, his much-heralded and prize-winning debut whose voice evoked “the mythic styles of his literary predecessors . . . William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy and Edward P. Jones” (San Francisco Chronicle), Jon Clinch returns with Kings of the Earth, a powerful and haunting story of life, death, and family in rural America.
The edge of civilization is closer than we think.
It’s as close as a primitive farm on the margins of an upstate New York town, where the three Proctor brothers live together in a kind of crumbling stasis. They linger like creatures from an older, wilder, and far less forgiving world—until one of them dies in his sleep and the other two are suspected of murder.
Told in a chorus of voices that span a generation, Kings of the Earth examines the bonds of family and blood, faith and suspicion, that link not just the brothers but their entire community.
Vernon, the oldest of the Proctors, is reduced by work and illness to a shambling shadow of himself. Feebleminded Audie lingers by his side, needy and unknowable. And Creed, the youngest of the three and the only one to have seen anything of the world (courtesy of the U.S. Army), struggles with impulses and accusations beyond his understanding. We also meet Del Graham, a state trooper torn between his urge to understand the brothers and his desire for justice; Preston Hatch, a kindhearted and resourceful neighbor who’s spent his life protecting the three men from themselves; the brothers’ only sister, Donna, who managed to cut herself loose from the family but is then drawn back; and a host of other living, breathing characters whose voices emerge to shape this deeply intimate saga of the human condition at its limits.
Praise for Kings of the Earth
O, The Oprah Magazine
In his masterful and compassionate new novel, Kings of the Earth, Clinch borrows from a true-life case of possible fratricide. Three elderly, semiliterate brothers live in squalor on a ramshackle dairy farm in central New York state. The prismatic narrative shifts time and point of view, and Clinch easily slips into the voices of his diverse cast of characters—a nosy, good-hearted neighbor, a police investigator struggling to do the right thing, and the brothers’ drug-dealing nephew. Through evocative descriptions of the landscape—“a countryside full of that same old homegrown desolation”—and by imbuing these odd men with a gentle nobility and an “antique strangeness,” Clinch has created a haunting, suspenseful story.
The Washington Post Book World
True feeling seems to be out of fashion in contemporary fiction, and fiction is the poorer for it. Disaffection and irony may be the tenor of the times, but too much of it can leave you estranged and lonely. Then along comes Clinch, and we are once again safe at home, in the hands of a master.
Kings of the Earth recalls the finest work of John Gardner, and Bruce Chatwin’s On the Black Hill, another exploration of the bonds between brothers that go unspoken but never unexamined. It becomes a story that is not told but lived, a cry from the heart of the heart of the country, in William Gass’s phrase, unsentimental but deeply felt, unschooled but never less than lucid. Never mawkish, Clinch’s voice never fails to elucidate and, finally, to forgive, even as it mourns.
The Washington Post named Kings of the Earth to its list of the five best novels of 2010.
- unmediated ink, December 2012
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