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For Kings and Planets

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,023 ratings  ·  101 reviews
From the celebrated author of The Palace Thief and Emperor of the Air, comes this stunning novel about the relationship between two very different men. Orno Tarcher travels from a small town in Missouri to New York City to attend Columbia University, where he begins a new life feeling unsophisticated and insecure. He soon strikes up a friendship with Marshall Emerson, a se ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 1st 1999 by Picador (first published 1998)
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3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,023 ratings  ·  101 reviews

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Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Last month when lists of great books made headlines, "The Great Gatsby" scored high with the old fogies from Random House and the hipsters at Radcliffe College. Though it enjoyed only modest sales when published in 1925, nowadays everybody loves Fitzgerald's brief novel about a glamorous gangster and his doomed quest for status and love.

I kept thinking about that masterpiece as I read Ethan Canin's new novel, "For Kings and Planets." This is another story about an introspective Midwesterner who
Roger DeBlanck
Jan 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
In Canin’s novel For Kings and Planets, he examines the friendship of two very different young men trying to find their way in the world. Marshall is a brilliant mind, but he suffers from a penchant for self-destruction. His torn relations with his father have him channeling his genius towards acute destructiveness. Marshall’s wounded soul is balanced against the wandering spirit of Orno, an intelligent, hardworking young man with scholarly qualities. Their friendship is bridged by the women the ...more
Jul 09, 2008 rated it it was ok
Boy, I tried with this one. I love Canin's short stories (and I feel like I should read Emperor of the Air again as a palate-cleanser), but this one just left me cold. I read about 100 pages then set it aside in frustration for a couple of weeks, then gave it another 50 pages to get interesting, then decided life is too short to read books that bore me.

Perhaps it was because I had such a bad experience with The Cheese Monkeys -- which has a similar "sheltered Midwesterner's life is shaken up by
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
I didn't know a thing about this book when I picked it up, which is nice: no baggage. I think I checked it out because Sarah Haskins said she liked it in an interview and I pretty much take book recs wherever I can get them (if the recommender seems intelligent, that is). So anyway, allow me to load some baggage on you in case you're interested in reading it.

Apparently Canin has a thing about midwestern straight men and charismatic others who draw the stolid ones into their orbit. There are some
Aug 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
A really fine novel, with marvelously complex characters, always surprising, always inscrutable, yet always believable characters I really cared deeply about. It's a pretty simple story, but full of surprising turns that always bring a new revelation about the meaning of character. In the end, it's another coming-of-age story, but a very unusual one because of its focus on character. It's a celebration, in some ways, of good old-fashioned midwestern virtues of sturdiness & diligence, loyalty ...more
Mar 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Hardly an aphorism, For Kings and Planets rehashes the age-old parables about wealth, status, lineage, and regionalism, and yet Canin does pretty well standing on the shoulders of giants, here. His language isn't as lyrical as the bookjacket suggests, but he does have beautiful moments. Most of his strongest writing is in sentences that aren't vividly limned, but succinct and smart, encapsulating the worlds he's trying to describe.

The book's plot obviously rests in its characters, not in loud e
Dec 17, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know why this is such a hard novel to read - I had to push myself until about mid-point before it engaged me. And looking back, I'm still not sure how I feel about it. The story is, as several others have commented, rather trite: naive mid-westerner meets New York sophisticate - and at the same time, who else writes a story about a dentist? And if Marshall Emerson creates himself out of whole cloth like Gatsby, how marvelous of him to choose Turkey rather than Long Island. Ethan Canin wa ...more
Nov 22, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that's so gorgeously written that I'm going to like it no matter what the subject matter is. In For Kings and Planets, a small-town Missouri boy moves to New York City for college, and on his first day there meets a fellow student whose powerful personality draws him into his orbit in spite of their differences. The whole thing is perhaps a somewhat typical coming-of-age story that doesn't do a lot to challenge stereotypes about wide-eyed rural Midwesterners vs. world- ...more
May 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I'm still basking in the glow of reading this book. Trying to decide if it was more "Great Gatsby" or "Oryx and Crake." Either way, I loved it.

Maybe after some time passes and I think more about the book -- instead of the nostalgia it inspired in me -- it'll lose a little luster. But isn't that what a good book is supposed to do? Make you reflect on your own life and ponder your choices and where you're headed?

"For Kings and Planets" isn't a different story, but has a different feel than a lot o
Dan Wool
Feb 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Not a novel -- literature -- of the highest order -- recalls Fitzgerald, Faulkner, Hemingway. A beautiful book about the struggles of being ordinary.
Jen Walker
Mar 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
captivating. loved the writing
Jul 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Orno Tarcher goes from Cook’s Grange, Missouri, to Columbia University in New York City. He meets Marshall Emerson his first day, sparking a troubled friendship and a very touching story. The first chapters are uncannily reminiscent of going to Cornell, even down to the little things like leaving the dorm windows open in the winter to counter the overactive heating, though that is probably very common in buildings where the heat is managed by a central control, set equally for everyone.

The only
Dana Brown
Dec 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is about how a father is built, what leads to the man that a child will only know as “Dad”. There are other compelling important story lines but in the end, I felt every character was in conflict with, coming to a realization of, the victim of, in defense of, or in love with a father.

This is a beautiful, quiet story. I stumbled on Canin’s work and have continued reading his novels. For some reason, maybe because of the timelessness, I assumed he wasn’t a contemporary author - and I di
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I am actually rating this 3.5 stars. I think some of my Good Reads Friends may really enjoy this novel. It has been compared to The Great Gatsby for good reason. In 1974 Missouri boy Orno starts school at Columbia in NYC. He meets Marshall Emerson a troubled, charismatic and brilliant New Yorker who befriends him and shows him a world that is bigger and bolder than any he has known. The characters are richly drawn if not a wee bit stereotyped. Canin's writing has depth and beauty and he is a mas ...more
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
From my mother's bookshelf ... I was a big fan of Canin years back and was happy to read this novel. It's a thoroughly engrossing story, beautifully told in an old-fashioned way: Canin explores character here through the lives and friendship of Orno and Marshall while also conveying a strong sense of place, from New York City to Missouri to LA. I really enjoyed this book. It stands up well over time, losing nothing and it's reassuring to sense that there really are good, strong people out there ...more
Nick Tan
Feb 10, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jen Daly
Jan 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Just quite wonderful.
Gaby Chapman
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Small town Missouri boy goes to college in NYC, enmeshes himself with worldly sophisticated family-- a meditation on the safety of mediocrity.
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting story of the friendship that develops between two young men who meet on their first day of college - one wealthy and one the son of an insurance salesman from Missouri.
May 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of those books that has unforgattable details and plot. It contains some complicated characters who will be alive in your mind.
Charles McCaffrey
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
Excellent writing - did I miss the plot?
Steve Petherbridge
Sep 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is a tale of two young men from totally different backgrounds, Orno, motivated to progress the class ladder, but, grounded and level headed, from small-town Missouri, and Marshall, a charismatic, highly-intelligent, but, unpredictable and emotionally damaged New Yorker from an apparently wealthy - seemingly old monied - and academically high-achieving Democrat supporting family. We follow the frienship, from their initial meeting at Columbia University, their social lives and loves at colle ...more
Dora Okeyo
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Okay, where should I start with this one...

Orno- yes, that's the country bumpkin, the naive kid who thinks everyone is good

Marshall, that's the smart one- comes from a well connected family- and has superb memory that he doesn't have to study to pass exams, everyone says 'he's amazing.'

Okay- my issue- Marshall is a flat character, just when you think he has something new to offer, he goes flat back to his ways, and all you see is Orno's struggle to identify his needs, work hard for his dreams, a
Simon Mcleish
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Originally published on my blog here in May 2000.

For Kings and Planets is a novel about two friends, from the date that they meet at Columbia University through the next ten years as their lives diverge. Though the tale is entirely realist, it is hard not to feel that the two of them symbolise different parts of the personality, Marshall the neurotic and brilliant, Orno the staid and down to earth.

In terms of plot, the novel is fairly predictable and perhaps a little complacent in its acceptance
Scott Pierce
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-1900s
Personally, I will take Canin's earlier works set in the Midwest, but for a little bit of a worn topic (young innocent arrives in NYC and meets sophisticated counterpart), the book is good and explores that question of who you are, and where you are from, and if a move changes you.

"Years later, Orno Tarcher would think of his days in New York as a seduction. A seduction and a near miss, a time when his memory of the world around him - the shining stone stairwells, the taxicabs, the sea of nightt
Jul 29, 2007 rated it liked it
There was something a little unsettling about this book - the writing was sometimes a little too lush? ornate? when sparer writing would have been more effective.

Canin has specialized in the man-from-nothing-is-good, man-from-privilege-is-amoral/bad/corrupt genre, and this is no different. Orno (or no?) comes from the midwest to Columbia Universtity, not the best of students but one who can study and apply himself. Meeting Marshall proves both his undoing and his salvation: he's introduced to Ne
L.K. Hunsaker
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Orno is a Midwest boy of average ability but plenty of drive who goes to school in New York City. Unsure where his path will head and with no real plans other than to get out of his small farm town, he runs smack into Marshall, a savvy jaded brilliant New Yorker with a penchant for words but lacking "drive," which he easily acknowledges.

Canin weaves a delightful picture of the west-east clash and merge with moments of sparkling truth and ugly reality.

The only thing that keeps me from giving this
Aug 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Orno tarcher is originally from Missouri but later arrives in New York. He feels disadvantage and misunderstood by his parents who wants him to make the right choices and consider the values they taught him. He attends a prestigious university where he meets Marshall Emerson; charismatic man from a worldly family and the two form a friendship. One is bent on destruction, and the other one is passive about life and the career they want to make from themselves. Tensions between rivalry, friendship ...more
Mar 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
I love to read Ethan Canin's writing. This novel, however, didn't enchant me like some of his other novels and short stories. I had a hard time relating to the characters, even though Canin takes care to give you a rich, multi-layered understanding of their complexities. The protagonist is a college freshman when the novel begins. The story tracks his friendship with another college student from a different economic class, following their history through the next 8 years or so. I was disappointe ...more
Anthony Tierney
Feb 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I really loved Ethan Canin’s book of short stories The Palace Thief so I think I approached For Kings and Planets with a really positive outlook anyway…and I wasn’t disappointed…I really loved it. It is a beautifully written work and although the themes are not new he writes so majestically that I just didn’t care that at times I felt like I had read this book before. The contrasts/differences between his two main characters are wonderfully highlighted. It is a coming-of-age story and it is a bo ...more
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Highly regarded as both a novelist and a short story writer, Ethan Canin has ranged in his career from the "breathtaking" short stories of Emperor of the Air to the "stunning" novellas of The Palace Thief, from the "wise and beautiful" short novel Carry Me Across the Water to the "epic" America America. His short stories, which have been the basis for four Hollywood movies, have appeared in a wide ...more