THE KINGDOM OF OHIO by Matthew Flaming
“…if free will exists, it’s a decision we make between futures.”
Review by Kirstin Merrihew (FEB 18, 2010)
If you are mad about Somewhere in Time and/or H. G. Wells’ The Time Machine, The Kingdom of Ohio may be right up your alley. A star-crossed love story intertwines with questions of how people might leap from one time and place to another. However, The Kingdom of Ohio would have been a more original story if it had been published during Well’s time, or even just before 1980 when the Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour movie was first released. Those who keep up with current physics theories and read science fiction and fantasy will find more derivative than seminal thought here, but this novel still emanates power to engage.
First-time novelist Matthew Flaming, who studied philosophy, provides back-of-the-envelope (i.e., brief, pithy) insights into the still unsolved mystery of self and existence, inserting comments such as, “And that’s the funny thing about memory, isn’t it? Nothing is so near, and nothing else so unreachably far.” He wants to explore reality and whether it is solid or diaphanous. He uses the metaphor of the “machine” of bustling New York at the dawn of the twentieth century to invoke such ideas as a mechanical universe, the inhumanity of the industrial age, and the rise of science. He opens Chapter 1 with nostalgia from the primary narrator (who is writing this manuscript, complete with meticulous and helpful footnotes), and then this lament: “Carried on the tide of progress, we all seem to be fast-forwarding into a future where our memories become irrelevant relics from a useless and discarded past.” The character, in other words, isn’t exactly sure where he belongs, and he tells us why.
The book’s aging narrator (who doesn’t initially bother to impart his name) also conveniently includes a good plot summary: “It’s a story about conspiracies and struggles to reshape the world; about secret wars between men like J. P. Morgan, Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla. It is about one of the strangest and least-known mysteries of American history: the existence and disappearance of the Lost Kingdom of Ohio (arguably the most inventive idea in the novel). It is about science and faith, and the distance between the two. Most of all, it’s a story about a man and a woman, and about love.” Certainly each of these elements is present. The difficulty is that they don’t really ignite the story, even when “fire and light” adorn the text…perhaps because the writing is dispassionate (possibly reflecting a reserve in the narrator) and tends to telegraph plot and dissipate suspense. As for the portraits of the real luminaries, they feel postured at times, and their parts in the plot don’t always feel very organic. This novel simply doesn’t always integrate like, say, good calculus. Also combining a tiny and defended kingdom in Ohio, the “true” reason for the N.Y. subway layout pattern (also in the hunt for most inventive idea, but not fulfilled), a beautiful woman mathematician whose perils are gradually shared by a protective subway mechanic, and a narrative movement that switches from present day back a hundred years and more, proves a bit unwieldy.
Despite these critiques, the eccentric The Kingdom of Ohio can appeal to those, like me, who are philosophically inclined; those who muse about the things that Flaming and his characters do. Maybe it can appeal even more to curious readers who have only a glancing knowledge of its subject matter; the book may whet their appetites for history, mathematics, physics, etc. I read it eagerly, did so quickly, and do recommend it as a reputable first novel sporting some handsome prose — with the proviso that the grandness of its themes aren’t quite matched by execution or content. Flaming possesses an out-of-the-box imagination, and I look forward to his increasingly seasoned application of it.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 35 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; 1st edition (December 31, 2009)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Matthew Flaming|
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another interesting read about Tesla:
The Invention of Everything Else by Samantha Hunt
- The Kingdom of Ohio (December 2009)