Book Review: For Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin

For Kings and Planets, wingrove buttons, too 003Well, I’m supposed to be reading Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph
Campbell for book club on the 20th–8 days away–but I’ve found a couple
of other books more enticing!

One is this wonderful Ethan Canin book published in 2010–and I have a
first edition, thanks to that book sale running nearby . . .

I’m already a fan of Ethan Canin–having read and liked Emperor of the Air
(stories), Blue River, The Palace Thief (stories) and Carry Me Across the Water.

So I was happy to pick up For Kings and Planets and wasn’t disappointed.
Orno Tracher, from Missouri, enrolls in Columbia University in New York, and
feels like a hayseed.  He promptly meets a very sophisticated Marshall Emerson,
who seems to have all the knowledge needed already.  He seldom studies, can
recite from memory whole pages of texts and is generally all that Orno is not.

The book proceeds, gradually outlining the differences between the two boys’
backgrounds.  Parents meet the other parents—don’t you love that?  and
while Orno is wishing he were more like Marshall, Marshall, inconceivably
in Orno’s eyes, is envious of Orno.

Orno joins in the late night student discussions which Marshall leads, but
hangs back from fully participating in the rituals involving drugs.  He
begins to test himself, trying to find out who he really is, who he wants
to become.

A deeper, darker thread underlies the action of the novel, and we are
literally drawn in page by page.  What a writer!  Who wants to read old
Hero with a Thousand Faces when you have Ethan Canin?

Here are three snippets:  “Is there anything you didn’t want to tell the

” . . .not named for kings and planets . . .”

“People don’t change.”

By coincidence, the cryptogram in the paper this week was a quote by
W. Somerset Maugham: “When you are choosing your friends, don’t
be short-changed by choosing personality over character.”
I began to wonder, as I read, if Orno had ever heard that quotation.

Upon publication, The New York Times raved: “shimmering . . .luminous . . .
For Kings and Planets leaves you wounded and healed.”

And I’d agree—-a rattling good read that will receive a star in my book

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