Jack's Reviews > The King of Kings County

The King of Kings County by Whitney Terrell
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's review
May 17, 07

bookshelves: jackrecommends, reallygoodstuff
Recommended for: literary novel readers

Whitney Terrell’s The King of Kings County sticks to the ribs like a Plaza III porterhouse and potatoes dinner. The story doesn’t dazzle. Nothing much happens: a son struggles with his father’s foibles, with a love above his class, and with the evolution of a city from centric to suburban sprawl propelled by subtle racism. It’s the story’s seasoning, the way Terrell tells his story, that provides nourishment far beyond the tale itself.

Although short on action and suspense, Terrell does weave a credible tale that takes on racism and relationships, love and longing. Jack Acheson, growing up on the fringes of Kansas City privilege in the 1950s, serves as the book’s narrator and flawed moral compass. Jack’s father Alton lives a life of schemes and dreams. Alton longs to emulate his hero Tom Durant, a railroad robber baron from the 1800’s. He possesses the brains and a plan (“the biggest land grab since Tom Durant stole half of Iowa for the Union Pacific” Alton calls it) but not the means to pull it off. Alton must seek financial aid from Prudential Bowen, the most powerful man in Kansas City: a man who demands and receives his pound-of-flesh in every local deal. Alton is a good man who cheats, a moral man who makes immoral choices. He uses race as a wedge, yet Elmore Haywood, the man who becomes his closest friend, is an African American. Alton walks and breathes contradictions.
Ultimately, the father/son relationship, Alton and Jack’s, provides the thematic flavoring for Terrell’s story. Alton frequently embarrasses his son, who is obligated to actively participate in his father’s real estate cons. The son is alternately amazed and abhorred by his father’s audacious dealings. Of Alton’s scheme that initiates Kansas City’s steamrolling white-flight, Jack recalls: “my father’s effort to sell these people homes in white neighborhoods of the city’s east side was simultaneously the best and the worst thing he ever did for the Alomar Company”. Alton soon learns he can neither best, nor even match the demagogue, Prudential Bowen. At the same time, high school aged Jack falls for Bowen’s granddaughter Geanie, occasioning an on-again, mostly off-again love that will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Whitney Terrell’s genius, his rich characters and dialogue, sustain long after the last bite of King’s feast of words.

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