Cannonball Read #30: The Kingdom of Ohio03/09/2010
The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming is a very curious book. I enjoyed it a lot, but I’m still not 100% sure what happened. It is certainly on my mind, though.
The novel takes place in both New York City of the early 1900’s and California of the present day. The narrator finds a photograph in some stuff he’s unpacking in his antique shop, and it prompts him to tell us the story of Peter Force, a mechanic helping to build the New York City subway system. Force’s new arrival in the city and grunt work in the subway tunnels gradually shift to the story of his more skilled work as a mechanic and then his chance encounter with a damsel in distress.
Purporting to be the princess from the Kingdom of Ohio, Cheri-Anne Toledo, the woman fascinates Peter with her story about time travel. Cheri-Anne states that she has traveled through time, and distance, from an explosion at her father’s estate in Ohio. The narrator shifts back and forth from his first person account of finding the photograph and then selling his antique shop to New York City at the turn of the century, Peter’s upbringing in Idaho, and the history of the Kingdom of Ohio.
According to the narrator, the Kingdom of Ohio was founded by Cheri-Anne’s father, a nobleman from Europe prior to the American Revolution. He peppers the book with footnotes, and I wondered if they were fiction, a la Johnathon Norrell and Mr. Strange. Cheri-Anne is its last descendant.
The fictional characters are matched with sections about famous historical people such as Thomas Edison, J. P. Morgan and Nikola Tesla. Unfortunately, Flaming does a better job with their characterizations than he does with Peter or Cheri-Anne. Granted, Edison, Morgan and Tesla were certainly larger than life figures, but Flaming’s intent to keep Cheri-Anne’s past shrouded in mystery slightly backfires. She’s just not as vivid a character as the inventors.
What finally happens to the antiques dealer, Peter, and Cheri-Anne is something I won’t spoil for you, and I’m not even sure if I could. The ending leaves one thinking about what was and what could be.