King of Hope by Kim Conklin

King of Hope is set in a fictional town on the shores of Lake Erie. The town has an ignominious past as a site where nuclear testing took place in the days of the Manhattan Project. The government has spent money to bury the radioactive land underground, but still, the people of Port D’espère (“Hope” in French, but in English, too close to “Despair”) are getting sick. There is presently a Uranium processing plant operating, and some in the town are suspicious of it dumping more radioactive content into the waters.

The town’s mayor is Hart Addison. He is also the editor-in-chief of a small weekly newspaper, The Port D’espère Guardian. Hart is a Port D’espère man through and through. He left for a time, but his town and his kind of people were calling him back, figuratively speaking. In the meantime, he had fallen in love with Ronnie, who is from Quebec. Did I mention Port D’espère is very xenophobic? They are to the point of open rudeness to Ronnie and others like her that are not from the town didn’t attend school there and so on. I suspect that the town’s xenophobia is exaggerated somewhat for effect.

King of Hope is a semi-satirical novel that highlights small-town thinking and how easily such places that need economic support are willing to accept whatever industry they can get, environmental concerns aside. Hart finds that his fight to change things and wake people up to the realities of the radiation dangers they are literally sitting on is harder than he expects it to be. Hart is asked:

“So, I’m curious: Why do you stay? It’s kind of like the people who moved back to New Orleans after Katrina, knowing it could happen again. I’d like to understand it.”
It was the question that had been dogging him all week, the one he couldn’t answer. Now, he heard a clear voice coming from somewhere deep inside himself: Because I only know how to be myself here, in this town, with these people. Because if I go somewhere else, I’m afraid I’ll become someone else, and wind up living someone else’s life.

Hart goes through an existential crisis deciding what to do, and how to wake up the town (and the outside world) to the environmental predicament that is Port D’espère. But if Hart doesn’t do it, no one will.

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King of Hope is well-written in that Ms. Conklin keeps the story contained to the town limits. It is a small story, with small, but recognizable characters, some stereotypically so. Then there’s the lovable, eccentric Lenni, a fourteen-year-old coping with cancer through cosplay. However, all play their role well, and in fact, this novel could easily be envisioned as a production for the small screen. In fact, Chloé, the person responsible for tourism and business development, tells a friend:

“You grow up in a community, and you get your assigned part to play. You don’t get to change your story, because that just messes with the whole scheme of things.”

About the Author

Kim Conklin is a writer, filmmaker and podcaster. Her stories, poems and films have appeared in journals, anthologies and film festivals. Her journalism has appeared in broadcast and print, and her communications work has received more than 15 awards, including a Clio and a NY International Film Festival award.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Palimpsest Press (Oct. 1 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 250 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1990293247
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1990293245