- Paperback: 352 pages
- Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (March 9, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0812979419
- ISBN-13: 978-0812979411
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 49 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,140,893 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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For Kings and Planets: A Novel Paperback – March 9, 2010
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“Shimmering . . . luminous . . . For Kings and Planets leaves you wounded and healed.”— New York Times
“[Ethan Canin is] the most mature and accomplished novelist of his generation. For Kings and Planets stands head and shoulders above the crowd.”—Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered
“Breathtaking . . . outstanding . . . Scott Fitzgerald himself would have been honored by [Ethan Canin’s] company.”—Newsday
“Brilliant . . . richly lyrical . . . an homage to the Golden Age of American Romanticism.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Masterful . . . a classic parable of the human condition.”—Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Ethan Canin is the author of six books, including the story collections Emperor of the Air and The Palace Thief and the novels For Kings and Planets and Carry Me Across the Water. He is on the faculty of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and divides his time between Iowa and northern Michigan. He is also a physician.
Top customer reviews
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based on the summary from the jacket. I truly enjoyed it. I later found that Canin is highly regarded as a novelist in literary circles.
So when I saw this novel I made the purchase. While I thought it was solid, I was a bit disappointed. The two novels I've read
from canin now seem to apply to a formula. I'm hoping the parallels in the plotting of these novels is either a coincidence or my individual interpretation.
I became a fan of Ethan Canin back in the late 1980s when I read his marvelous collection of stories, "Emperor of the Air." My appreciation of his talents deepened a couple of years ago with the publication of his first novel, "America, America." In both novels, Canin succeeds in creating a protagonist who struggles mightily to hew to a moral and honorable path, only to face constant hurdles thrown in his way by other characters who are deeply flawed and morally compromised. Canin is an outstanding American writer.
But less can be less, too, and at times there just doesn't seem to be much excuse for the sheer lack of dialogue in the book. Canin's characters can barely breathe, he does so much of the talking for them. On the book's opening page two women are mentioned, and you'd guess they figure prominently, but only one of them actually has a speaking "part" in the book, and a small one at that. I can appreciate that Canin is guiding us to package this knowledge as a hazy fling that our main character, Orno Tarcher, once had, but still. At times, it just isn't enough.
The story is not complicated: There is Orno, an earnest Midwestern kid and Marshall, a brilliant, depressed New Yorker. They become friends when they meet Columbia University, mostly by chance, and then remain friends ever as Marshall drifts away into other circles. Canin draws Orno very nicely as a decent kid with a tad too much give in his personality. He takes it on the chin from Marshall a few too many times. And Marshall seems more than willing to throw the punch. And there is Simone, Marshall's sister, a sweet, considerate girl with less brilliance than Marshall but twice as much maturity. Orno recognizes those qualities in her and falls in love.
The book appeals to a certain taste. These days, the "in" thing is to delve and delve and delve into a scene or a character or a subject until it's been turned inside out. Canin rejects that. He has great instincts; the book is well thought-out, and well executed. It takes a lot more effort to write a book this way than it does to write a 1000-page tome that just goes on and on. Canin is after crafting realistic characters. That means that not every burden of the week is included.
Did some of the critics have a tough time with this one? Sure they did, because many of them are from the Marshall Emerson set, and it's not in their natural prediliction to side with someone without nihilism and sarcasm. Books like these are hard for the critical community for two reasons:
1. They want more ugliness to get their hands around, more pure, mean drama, more villanous behavior, more tension, more rivalry, presumably because it equals their life.
2. They see earnestness as a naivete, as intellectually underwhelming.
Thus, they disapprove of some of Marshall's changes late in the book, but they disapprove because they, like Orno, saw the Marshall they wanted to see, not the one Canin was quietly creating. Canin craftily shows us just he wants to show us, revealing Marshall's layers slowly, but clearly. There's much more, and in a sense less, there than we first believed.
Are we disappointed with how Marshall turns out? You bet we are. That's part of the point, and what a lot of critics failed to understand. It's clear to me some mistook their disappointment that Canin didn't uphold the jaded academic "standard" of greatness as poor or boring writing.
But "For Kings and Planets" is neither poor nor boring, it's simply a curve ball; for once here's a colorful genius that, we figure, will probably fail, but in a spectacular, weird, grand way that befits an intellectual giant. Orno, we sense, half expects it, too.
The trick, then, is that Marshall has invented half of his greatness, maybe because he wanted to be great, but didn't know how to be, and, in the end, is pretty blase like all the other wasted geniuses out there. Like the book that Marshall writes, the words are there, but not the music; Marshall has the knowledge to lead a great life, but not the style.
Thankfully, Dr. Canin knows the music to make this story sing.