Review: “Kings of the Earth” by Jon Clinch

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch


For me, this was a book that was very slow to start due to the rapidly changing characters and POV’s. The longer I stayed with it, however, the more I enjoyed it.


This is an earthy story that presents an in depth character study of a group of people living in farm country in upstate New York from 1932 to 1990. The central characters are three elderly, bearded, barely literate brothers, working a subsistence level farm. They sleep on the same mattress together as they have for their entire life. The other key character is a neighbor of substantial means but not wealthy, who is very well educated and very concerned for the well being of the brothers. They have been life-long friends.


Each chapter is titled for and about one of a dozen characters and always told in the same POV for that character. Chapters range from several pages to one line. POV changes from chapter to chapter with the characters.


The most interesting and defining feature of this book was the variety of POV’s used. The main characters and several minor ones were first person multiple vision. We get to see events from the perspective of a variety of characters.


One of these minor characters, the brother–in-law of the farmers, is defined in his own chapters by dialog only, and only his side of each dialog. He is a salesman and it said to me that he was a person who liked to talk but never listens. He only sees things his way, and must always have things his own way. The use of this POV technique, I thought, was an effective way to present this character.


Another group of, even more minor, characters’ chapters are written in third person multiple vision. It did increase the characters distance from the story and it seemed to reduce their impact on the story while still providing still more insight into events.


A third person observer who is omniscient only concerning her, describes Ruth, the mother of the brothers. This observer gives us the most eloquent narration in the book. This seems a reflection of an apparently well-educated woman who married far below her station in life.  Her back-story is often referred to but the reasons for her decision to marry into abject poverty are never given.


The effect that the author achieved is to give an extremely complete account of the stories conflicts and resolutions. We are allowed in the end, the equivalent of a nearly omniscient view.


~ by jmforceton on December 29, 2010.

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