Thursday, November 19, 2009

If only the author could go back in time...

The Kingdom of Ohio
by Matthew Flaming

I love debut novels and I love time travel stories. I love trying something new and potentially finding a favorite new author. Alas, that's not how it worked out this time. The simple truth is that The Kingdom of Ohio was a real slog to get through. More bluntly, it was the most boring time travel story I've ever read.

I'm not going to go into real detail with regard to the plot, but the novel is set in New York in 1900 at the time that the subway is being excavated. Our hero is Peter Force, one of the subway workers. One day, while looking out the window, Peter sees a woman collapse and rushes out to help her. She's tattered, but beautiful. She tells him that her name is Cherie-Anne Toledo, and that she has traveled somewhat inexplicably seven years into the future, and from Ohio to New York. The basic questions of the novel are, is she mad, and if not, how did this happen and what does it mean?

The story is stranded in a mass of superfluous detail. For instance, the world of this novel is exactly like our past (complete with starring roles for some of the preeminent figures of the time: J.P.Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Nicola Tesla) except for one major thing: In the novel, there was once a "Kingdom of Ohio," all but forgotten now. It was literally a piece of land sold to a French family during the early part of America's history, and ruled within this country's borders as its own Kingdom for more than a century. It is this Kingdom that Cherie-Anne claims to be from, but really, what's the point?

What, too, is the point of the copious and extremely tedious footnotes scattered throughout the book? Presumably, the author was trying to blur the line between reality and fiction. This was simply a very bad idea. Additionally, the author used the device of a present day narrator telling the story in retrospect. Flaming obscures the identity of this narrator, but it's so obvious from the start who it is, that this, in itself, telegraph's the novel's ending.

Flaming has attempted to write a time travel story in the tradition of Time and Again or The Time Traveler's Wife. In other words, a story strong on romance and weak on science, but again he fails, as I never grew to care about these characters or their relationship. Honestly, I didn't even like them very much.

Again and again and again as I read this novel, I searched for redeeming qualities, but here I failed. The prose exhibits the clunkiness of a first-time novelist and the story bored me more than anything else. I'm sorry, but I can't recommend reading The Kingdom of Ohio.

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