The use of multiple voices makes listening to Kings of the Earth, the latest novel by Jon Clinch, a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Narrated by Richard Poe, the book includes characterizations by Andrea Gallo, Ken Marks, George K. Wilson, Alan Nebelthau, T. Rider Smith, Rich Orlow, Ed Sala, and Henry Strozier. It tells of the death of 60-year-old Vernon Procter, eldest brother of a trio of eccentric, middle-aged men, and the subsequent accusation that Vernon had been murdered by his youngest brother, Creed. That the illiterate, foul-smelling men all lived together in squalor on the family farm in upstate New York throws a patina of gritty, undisturbed dust over the story’s setting.
Clinch allows Kings of the Earth to unfold by jumping back and forth in time, with all of the characters adding different dimensions to the story by sharing their various perspectives. This writing style gives ample opportunity for vocal talent to shine. The listener comes to know crusty Vernon (Marks); Audie, the simple-minded middle brother (Wilson); and Creed, a fellow who remained trusting and innocent despite having left the farm once for a short stint in the military (Smith). Donna, the sister who escaped the farm and became a nurse, voices her anxiety and exasperation at the literal filth of her brothers’ existence. The condescending, obnoxious tone of Donna’s son, Tom, is heard as he congratulates himself for his ability to operate his marijuana production right under his “ignorant” uncles’ noses. After vivid descriptions of the brothers’ lack of personal hygiene, listeners will wish that they could jump into the book and give the hapless Creed some much-needed advice as he earnestly talks about preparing to court a local waitress.
The “star” of the story is gruff but caring neighbor Preston Hatch (Strozier). Without pretension, Hatch is the know-it-all who has never entertained the fact that he might not know it all. His need to opine on everything from the stubbornness of mules or what keeps marriages strong to the best places for Sunday dinner give the book many humorous moments. Listeners will eagerly await Preston’s next pearls of wisdom. Those tangential digressions, though, do not distract from Preston’s deeply rooted sincerity for the well being of his simple neighbors and his passionate fury at how the naivete of Creed Procter has been exploited.
In Kings of the Earth, author Jon Clinch weaves a sensitive story of how three brothers living in quiet, albeit dirty, simplicity can be manipulated by the modern world. Narrator Richard Poe then leads the cast of talented actors as they give depth and personality to the book’s small town folks, the lives they chose for themselves, and their confrontation with the grit and grime of reality. Carole Chouinard