LORDS OF THE EARTH by Patrick Anderson


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Texas-oil family, 1920-1965--in a crassly routine soap-and-sex saga with a few tired political trimmings (JFK assassination theories, etc.). Young Wade Kingslea leaves wife, kids, and dried-up farm to join the oil boom circa 1920--striking it rich in Goodwill, Texas, with help from a rascally old oil-man and ""Five percent Fanny,"" a farsighted hooker. (She ""showed him that fucking could be fun."") So Wade is now ""a lord of the earth""; he moves into a Fort Worth mansion; he divorces his wife, gets custody of his two sons, and even marries amoral ranch-heiress Livie--who murdered her kinky (dildos, sadism) first husband. But, though his millions mount, unlikable Wade has problems ahead. When mistress Fanny gets pregnant, Livie arranges a violent abortion--in retaliation for Wade's excessive punishment of Livie's daughter Eve (electrical cattle-prodding of genitals). Favorite son Hoyt is killed in WW II. Son Coyle, a victim of sadistic Texas M&I hazing, is an alcoholic disappointment. So when Coyle's wife Louise finally leaves him, she insists on raising their sensitive son Philip without Kingslea family money or interference: Wade's grandson grows up with lots of resentment toward Grandpa (who has disinherited him), handsome cousin Skip (Hoyt's son), and Texas. The novel's second half, then, follows faceless Philip from teenagerdom to adulthood: he has a high-school affair with a teacher; he can't afford to go to Princeton (he scorns Wade's financial aid) but winds up anyway as a 1961 speechwriter for JFK; he adores childhood sweetheart Jenny, but she marries would-be congressman Skip instead; when JFK is assassinated, Philip is convinced that rightwinger Wade had something to do with it--turning his suspicions into a bestselling novel. And finally, after Philip and Jenny begin their affair at last (she reveals her rape-trauma past), Jenny threatens to leave Skip and is murdered by Wade--leading to a biased trial. . . and a stagey showdown between Grandpa and grandson. Anderson, whose Washington novels have displayed a certain insider-zip, just plods along predictably this time, stringing together clichÉs from the dynasty-shelf; only occasional bits of social background provide energy or bite. And so, with cardboard characters, embarrassingly corny cameos (Lee Harvey Oswald, Mary Martin), and crude everything else, this is a just-serviceable slog--lacking the distinctive features of Shad Sentell (p. 95), John William Corrington's oil-family saga.

Pub Date: April 27th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday