On the surface it is a simple, oft told story about family, enjoying outdoor sports, baseball and coming of age. However, Howard Frank Mosher’s new novel, God’s Kingdom provokes deeper contemplation into societal relations and differences among people.
The setting is 1950’s northeastern Vermont along the Canadian border, an area referred to by Vermonters as the “Northeast Kingdom”. It is sparsely settled with miles and miles of unspoiled streams, lakes and mountains. The main character is Jim Kinneson III, a high schooler and latest of many generations of Kinneson’s in northeastern Vermont going back to the American Revolution and in a plot twist even earlier.
A remote fishing and hunting camp is the book’s central backdrop. Several times a year, Jim and his father and grandfather paddle their canoe to this rustic cabin. Denoting its specialness, etched on the lintel above the front door is “God’s Kingdom”. The novel opens with Jim’s first deer hunt to get “blooded”. Jim’s father and grandfather selected a large, twelve point buck for his prey. But when Jim gets into position for a clean shot, he lowers his rifle. On the way back to the camp, Jim tracks and kills a more commonplace deer. This presages his journey of self discovery and the secrets of his family history.
Interspersed between hunting, fishing and day to day camp life, Gramps recounts many stories about the family and the history of their town and surrounding area. Family members and ancestors play roles in the town’s prominent school and declining furniture mill. Jim is an eager reader of a long running paper journal kept in the camp. He adds entries signaling his willingness to become part of his family’s legacy.
Besides family history, the camp serves as a place for Jim to develop from a boy to a man. First, he learns from his father and gramps both about the love of nature but also about integrity, responsibility and right and wrong. Even gramps not respecting Vermont’s fishing laws are instructive and archetypical of radically individualistic Vermonters. And finally, Jim also learns how to have a loving female relationship, even coming of age in a top cabin bunk.
Deeper, the book addresses vexing social issues of the day and some that continue to the present. Inconsistent with its bucolic setting and natural beauty, the area’s story includes race and heritage related hatred, violence and discrimination. With several twists and turns, Jim discovers that the boundaries between races and people are not so clear. This powerful message is the most compelling feature of Mosher’s story.
I highly recommend God’s Kingdom to readers interested in fishing and wilderness sports, baseball and quintessential Vermont. More importantly, it is a story of what it really means to come of age and what are the real implications of race and national heritage. And finally it dispels the myth of “the other” person or group which is inferior.