For Kings and Planets (Magill Book Reviews)
Ethan Canin has had an impressive literary start as the author of two fine collections of stories, EMPEROR OF THE AIR (1988) and THE PALACE THIEF (1994). However, his first novel, BLUE RIVER (1991), was a disappointment; FOR KINGS AND PLANETS now proves a flat-out failure. The plot is all-too-familiar: A friendship between a Midwestern hayseed and a Manhattan sophisticate turns increasingly problematic. It’s all too predictable: the tortoise with and then against the hare, innocence opposed to decadence. Orno Tarcher is an insecure, not particularly bright kid from small-town Missouri; Marshall Emerson is a brilliant son of brilliant professors from Morningside Heights. They meet and bond as freshmen at Columbia University.
Orno plods his way through Columbia and then dental school. Marshall leaves Columbia in his sophomore year for Los Angeles to write and produce film and television scripts. Orno falls in love with Marshall’s sister, Simone, who is unpretentious and stable while her brother is seductive and mercurial. Orno and Simone live together in a small Maine town, where he joins a practice. Then Orno’s father insists on planning an elaborate wedding for them. It never comes off, as Marshall maligns his sister to Orno and disappears from the Cape, his father commits suicide, and Simone reveals to Orno that both her dad and brother lived lives of mendacity and pretentiousness. Orno concludes that he has received a moral education.
(The entire section is 318 words.)
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For Kings and Planets (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
Ethan Canin has had an impressive start as a writer of stories, some of which are long enough to qualify as novellas. His first collection, Emperor of the Air (1988), won praise from reviewers for the maturity of his intelligence, the sensitivity of his perceptions, and the grace of his prose. His second, The Palace Thief (1994), was even more widely acclaimed for its steady moral compass, confident voice, acuteness of detail, and, above all, for the extraordinarily sensitive way in which it dealt with the consequences of feelings when people’s dreams tremble and then dissolve. He has already been proclaimed as a master of short narratives comparable to Peter Taylor, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, and even John Cheever.
Not so with his novels. His first, Blue River (1991), was a disappointment: too much background, not enough narrative drive. For Kings and Planets proves a flat-out failure. The plot is all too familiar: A friendship between a Midwestern hayseed and a Manhattan sophisticate turns increasingly problematic. Orno is an insecure, wide-eyed, not particularly bright grind from small-town Missouri; Marshall is a brilliant son of brilliant professors from Morningside Heights. It’s all too predictable: the tortoise with and then against the hare, the provincial against the slickster and trickster, innocence opposed to decadence. Not only have readers been here before, but usually in better company: many of...
(The entire section is 1746 words.)