For Kings and Planets Ethan Canin by is a well written novel about two young men, Orno Tarcher and Marshall Emerson, who attend Columbia University in New York City. Orno, the protagonist, is from a small town in Missouri with more pigs than people. He goes off to Columbia to pursue a respectable career. On his first night in the big city, he meets Marshall, an intriguing, mystifying fellow student with a photographic memory, apparently a family trait.
The two are constantly contrasted with each other: where Orno is reliable, dependable, and safe, Marshall is reckless, strong-willed, and dangerous. Marshall drops out of Columbia to pursue writing a novel, but ends up producing television in Hollywood. His fast-paced lifestyle eventually catches up with him, and the two friends must come to terms with their friendship as Orno prepares to settle down as a dentist.
I don’t want to give away too much of the plot because, all told, there isn’t that much plot to begin with. While Canin does a great job of describing the complex interactions between characters, this novel is not the stuff of legend. It’s a simple story of a young man growing up while attending a large college very far away from his hometown. I recommend the novel if you’ve got a weekend to spare, but it is not something I recommend you go out of your way to find.