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For Kings and Planets

by Ethan Canin

Orno Tarcher, a country boy, goes East to university and is seduced by the brilliance and sophistication of his fellow student, Marshall Emerson, who represents the surface glitter of wealth and status. Resisting a simplistic contrast with the wholesome values of the mid-west, Canin draws a subtle portrait of Marshall, a young man whose savoir faire thinly masks an underlying flakiness and, ultimately, corruption. Orno inevitably falls in love with Marshall's sister, Simone, and the complexity of the relationship between the three characters is brilliantly portrayed. Orno is an innocent and, as he tells the story, we become painfully aware of how vulnerable his wide-eyed wonder makes him. At one point, Orno finds himself crying and when Simone asks him why, he says, "I don't know, the world is just such a surprise."

Having grown up in the country, I'm not a fan of big cities but, with the narrator, I fell in love with the strange beauty of New York. The city of 'heroic proportion' is drawn to scale in the lyrical detail of Ethan Canin's elegant prose. This is a novel in the tradition of Fitzgerald and Henry James but with a fresh, contemporary slant.

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