Farming is their way of life, but life has not been kind to the Proctor family. For decades, brothers Vernon, Audie and Creed have lived in relative isolation on the fringe of society. As farmers in rural upstate New York, they scrape by running their farm, as did their alcoholic and sadistic father Lester before his bizarre death. Their beloved mother Ruth has passed on as well, resigned to her fate after suffering the ravages of cancer. Her room, now boarded up, remains a shrine to her memory. But life on the farm continues for her boys, who struggle to endure.
Vernon, the eldest, has led a hard life. Nearly drowned as a boy, maimed in a farming accident, and neglecting his health out of fear and mistrust of doctors, he looks much older than his years. Despite his failing health, Vernon does his share of work and looks out for second-born Audie as they go about their daily routines on the farm.
As a young boy, feebleminded Audie is injured in a horrific accident that leaves a painful scar and even more painful memories. Change isn’t easy for Audie, who takes the death of his mother especially hard, but his brothers and their kindly neighbors help him through the ordeal.
For a time, Creed, the youngest of the three brothers, leaves the farm after being called to serve his country. As a soldier in the Korean War, he has learned about death --- and a little about life --- from other soldiers. After the war, Creed returns to the only home he has known with hopes of finding a wife, or at least someone to love.
Donna, the youngest and the only girl, doesn’t have it nearly as bad as the boys. She is also the only Proctor child able to escape farm life. She attends nursing school, marries and has a son. Yet the pull of family is strong. She remains in contact with her brothers and helps from a distance, but is brought back into family matters after the questionable death of her father.
Besides Donna, neighbors Preston and Margaret Hatch are the Proctor brothers’ connection to the outside world. Preston is a generous soul who assumes the role of advisor for the brothers. He acts on their behalf after the outside world intrudes on their simple ways, and the law tries to blame one of the brothers for the death of another.
Jon Clinch follows his critically acclaimed debut novel, FINN, with this haunting and sorrowful tale about a rural family and a way of life that spans decades and generations. Told from the voices of family, friends and law enforcement from the 1930s through the 1990s, KINGS OF THE EARTH is a family saga that is not easy to read and even harder to forget.
Reviewed by Donna Volkenannt (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 22, 2011
Kings of the Earth