FOR KINGS AND PLANETS by Ethan Canin

FOR KINGS AND PLANETS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

An elegantly rendered coming-of-age tale, set largely in 1970s Manhattan, featuring a decent, duty-bound midwesterner and the mercurial, rather cruel, dangerously charming cosmopolite whose orbit he’s drawn into. At the heart of Canin’s (The Palace Thief, 1994, etc.) story are two profoundly dissimilar young men. Orno arrives in New York in 1974, having come from small-town Missouri to attend Columbia. There, he’s befriended by the sophisticated Marshall Emerson, who is everything Orno isn’t: hip, cynical, blithely creative. He’s also able, faultlessly, to recall every page of every book he’s ever read. Orno grinds away at his studies while Marshall effortlessly garners perfect test scores. Meanwhile, Marshall introduces his friend to life’s pleasures: music, poetry, booze, and women. Only gradually does Orno begin to sense Marshall’s darker side: he discovers that Marshall has spread lies about him, and even worked to sabotage his romance with a follow student. But it isn’t until a disastrous vacation with Marshall’s family on Cape Cod that Orno begins to distance himself. He resumes studying, graduates from Columbia, goes on to dental school, and begins a satisfying romance with Simone, Marshall’s bright, good-hearted sister. Marshall, now a jaded young movie producer, and his parents mobilize to prevent Simone’s marriage to someone, it turns out, they consider a social inferior. Their efforts set in motion a series of revelations about Marshall’s long history of duplicity and instability. Orno’s struggle to come to terms with his erstwhile friend, and his efforts to articulate his own sense of values, are depicted with clarity and subtlety. But while the narrative is deft, it isn’t terribly deep, many of the characters seeming lurid and unsurprising, and the upheavals, culminating in a suicide, predictable. As the story of a dangerous friendship, not on the level of, say, A Separate Peace. But it does feature vigorous prose, a memorably affectionate portrait of Manhattan, and, in Orno, a thoroughly engaging protagonist. (Book-of-the-Month Club/Quality Paperback Club selection; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-679-41963-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1998




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