So begins this stunning novel about two young men, vastly different and from opposite worlds, who meet at Columbia University. Orno Tarcher arrives in New York City from a small town in Missouri, feeling unsophisticated, already behind, and tired of his family's bedrock values. He meets Marshall Emerson, a seductive and brilliant New Yorker from a wordly family, who has a photogrpahic memory and gets straight A's without opening a book yet lives always on the edge. As the novel follows the course of these men's lives, women and work - Marshall moves to Hollywood and becomes a screenwriter, while Orno follows a more mundane path - Ethan Canin explores the conflicts of character that mark the heart of every life.
For Kings and Planets, follows Orno and Marshall from their first days as students at Columbia University through their mid-to-late twenties, as they settle into careers that surprise them. It is easy to grow impatient with Orno and his uncertainties which allow him to fall victim time and again to Marshall's manipulations. If this story feels familiar, it is -- Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby are everywhere -- but it still makes for a satisfying read. Canin still loves his own words on the page a bit too much; the overwriting bogs the novel down, chokes it with unnecessary severity and grimness. Canin could use a Maxwell Perkins in his life.
In For Kings and Planets, Canin has learned that, from beginning to end, a novel needs the kind of peeks and chasms that, if mapped, would look like a heartbeat on a monitor. All-in-all, this novel is proof that Canin has a novelist inside himself and he's a hard-working Joe at his trade.