What’s on my nightstand this week?
It is, in fact, The Kingdom of Ohio, by Matthew Flaming. I have to admit, this has been on my nightstand for about two weeks now, because of the three other books I’m supposed to be reading for classes (Jane Austen in Scarsdale, Jehan de Saintré, and Gouverneurs de la Rosée). In a bout of insomnia last night, I ripped through about half the book.
A little synopsis, then: This book is told in retrospection by an old man. He has done extensive research on New York in the early 1900s, and this is the stage on which most of the novel plays out. Our hero, Peter Force, is a subway worker new to the city. One day, he spots a disheveled and possibly mad woman collapsed on the street. Her name is Cheri Anne Toledo, and she tells him a fantastical story about the kingdom of Ohio, supposedly absolved into the USA seven years prior. She claims to have traveled through time to visit New York. Through a number of encounters with various well-known figures of the period (JP Morgan, Tesla, Edison) she and Peter endeavor to figure out what has happened to her.
While it’s a cute (and overdone) premise, it reads pretty slowly. The writing isn’t that great, but it’s entertaining enough. It was published by Berkley Books (a Penguin imprint) and I can appreciate the complaints about the quality of the books being published there these days. Editorial assistants love to complain about their imprints and I love to listen.
The characters are okay, and I have to admit, I am biased towards Cheri Anne because her name is so cool. But really, Peter Force is just another guy stuck in foreign world who gets saddled with a weird task and a strange sidekick. I also wasn’t really that thrilled with the guest-stars (the aforementioned inventors and tycoon), who, I felt, really detracted from what could have been an interesting linear tale. Eliminate the retrospection, the famous figures, and shorten it by about 200 pages, and you’ve got a winner.
So give it a try. It’s certainly not at the top of my favorites list, but it’s a good beach book.