Howard Frank Mosher’s bailiwick for more than 40 years, and the setting for many of his 12 previous books, both fiction and nonfiction, is Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom—called God’s Kingdom by its earliest settlers. This nickname serves as the title for Mosher’s latest novel, which follows the Kinneson family, whose roots in Vermont go back to Charles Kinneson I, who arrived from the Scottish Isle of Skye in the late 18th century. It’s mostly the story of Jim Kinneson, who turned 14 in 1952, and began to write down the family stories gradually passed down to him.
Some stories Jim has already heard, in bits and pieces; some he only learns from his grandfather over the next few years. The interwoven stories Mosher tells about this tightly knit, resilient family are funny and poignant, joyous and sad. The reader hears about Jim’s black friend Gaetan, who moved to the Kinneson farm from Montreal when the boys were both in high school. A “mathematical savant” who speaks little English, Gaetan is tormented by their bigoted Algebra teacher, with tragic results. We accompany Jim on his first and last hunt for deer. A great story about Ty Cobb catching the local team’s baseball while riding through town on the train—and mailing it back later—is followed by a moving tale of a union supporter at the American Furniture Co. who loses his hand in a ripsaw “accident.”
Each story Mosher tells is infused with the weather, rugged landscape and stoic characters for which he has become famous—and brings the reader closer to the beautiful yet hardscrabble world where people like the Kinnesons, escaped slaves fleeing north, French Canadians and Native Americans all fought to survive. Like Charles Dickens, whose novels Jim loves to read to his mute mother, Jim wants to converse with his readers—to write as if each was his best friend, to whom he could tell “absolutely anything.” This is how Mosher has written this novel, and his readers are rewarded with splendid storytelling.