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The King of America: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (March 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375508198
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508196
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,022,219 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Like her acclaimed 1998 debut, The Undiscovered Country, Gillison's second novel is set in New Guinea (where she lived in the early 1970s) and revolves around an introspective only child of bitterly estranged parents. Stephen Hesse-loosely modeled on Michael Rockefeller, who disappeared 40 years ago in then Dutch New Guinea while collecting primitive art for his father's collectionâ€"is an excruciatingly lonely, earnest kid struggling to develop an identity under the crushing weight of his father's millions. Gillison skips nimbly through time and space to create a moving portrait of an intellectual, enthusiastic young man who's finding that all his glittering Hesse gold (there's so much of it that even the author sometimes seems to be in its thrall) is as much a curse as a blessing. Aspiring anthropologist Stephen eventually finagles his way onto a Harvard research team bound for New Guinea, and both he and the novel spring fully to life with the advent of dense, teeming coastlines and vertiginous mountain interiors. When compared to the richness of New Guinea's unbridled nature and awesome tribal art, Stephen's previous life feels flat and lifeless. His boredom as a young man in the U.S. occasionally infects the writing itself, but Gillison redeems herself in the jungle: in her loving hands, the lush landscapes throb with color and intensity. By the time Stephen finally disappears, as the reader knows he will, on an ill-advised art-buying mission among head-hunting tribes, one can't help mourning the loss of whatever this awakening might have spurred him to become.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

In 1961, Stephen Hesse, the son of an American oil titan, finds himself adrift off the coast of Irian Jaya, in the path of a monsoon. Inspired by the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in Dutch New Guinea, Gillison's novel excavates the interior life of a lonely, willful "prince of America" whose every relationship and attempt at achievement is tainted by his father's wealth and power. The mystery here is not Stephen's ultimate fate (Rockefeller's body was never found) but what draws him from his sheltered world to an untouched Stone Age land where women suckle piglets and men wear necklaces of human vertebrae. As Stephen ranges through the jungle, his fixation on collecting tribal carvings becomes a doomed hunt for himself and "a pure expression of what it was to be a man: sexual, angry, full of remorse, sorry to be a creature that will die."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Blankenship HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on September 19, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This short novel is certainly worth the read. The author uses very interesting technique, uses wonderful syntax and is certainly an extraordinary story teller. I found it quite amazing that the author was able to pack so much into just a few pages (a bit over 200). Her usage and conservation of words, while certainly not unique, is nevertheless refreshing. She, the author, obviously spent much time putting this one together. I highly recommend it. It has been one of the brighter spots in my reading year so far. There will no doubt be more from this author and I am looking forward to all of it. Thank you Ms Gillison keep up the good work!
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Ondre on February 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I really enjoyed the lush language of this novel, the hypnotic way it conveys the beauty and danger of New Guinea. Gillison seems to have honed and honed her descriptive language so carefully that each line seems as well crafted as good poetry. And when the novel is Stateside it manages to create credibly the protagonist's confusion and difficulties functioning within his priveleged world. I know that she got a Whiting Writers Award for her last novel. For a lot of people that seems to screw up their focus for future works. Gillison, however, took the honor to heart and knocked her writing up a notch. We should be thankful for it. This is an accomplished work that promises more good stuff to come.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By S. Calhoun on April 28, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Reading THE KING OF AMERICA is like taking a breath of fresh air. It's been a while since I've read a book that moved me the way this one had. At the center is Stephen Hesse, young heir to a fortune and life of privileges. His mother raised him after his parents divorced when he was two years old and throughout his childhood Stephen and his mother have remained close. Although his parents reside in the same building on Park Avenue they live completely separate lives. Father and son are virtual strangers and don't attempt a relationship until his early adulthood when Stephen yearns to win his affection despite his mother's hurt feelings.
While attending Harvard Steven joins an anthropological expedition to Netherlands New Guinea to study the native tribes. While he has an interest in anthropology his real intention is to gain his father's admiration. The passages pertaining to the rituals of tribesmen and the descriptions of the physical surroundings were fascinating to say the least. As I was reading I felt that I was accompanying them while traveling through the jungles and watching the death ceremonies.
One of the true strengths of this book is how the narrative dove headfirst into Stephen's motivations, inspirations and feelings. It was beautiful how his strained and flawed relationships with his father, mother and girlfriend Sheila were portrayed in a fluid and multi-dimensional manner.
THE KING OF AMERICA is undoubtedly a small book but there is so much contained within the 213 pages. Large issues of colonization and the appropriation of native cultures are told in a brilliant and fascinating manner. Highly recommended.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Brandon Hammell on October 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
When you reach the end of The King of America, you cannot help but mourn Stephen Hesse.
A spoiled rich kid, with the most touching of character traits. A romantic soul, who ultimately never finds what he's looking for. His happiness in New Guinea is nothing but a temporary high. Like a drug, which will eventually wear off and return him to the cold, pragmatic world of New York and the responsbility of his father's vast fortune.
Life seems to elude the younger Hesse. True love, happiness, even comfort. It all slips through his hands.
The "Prince of America" never has the chance to become the King.
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