Monday, November 07, 2011

Ed King

If there were an award for “Most Unusual Novel of the Year,” David Guterson’s Ed King would most certainly be a contender for this year’s title.  The buzz about Ed King is that it is an imaginative retelling of Oedipus Rex, the ancient Greek tragedy by Sophocles in which an unfortunate young man is fated to kill his father and marry his mother (remember that one from high school?).  Unfortunately for Ed King (note the not so subtle similarity between the names “Ed King” and “Oedipus Rex”), he will do the same. 

The story begins in 1962 Seattle, just when actuary Walter Cousins finds himself in need of someone to help him care for his two young children.  Lydia, Walter’s wife, has been hospitalized in a psychiatric facility, and he is unable to cope with all the demands he suddenly faces.  Walter sees fifteen-year-old English au pair Diane Burroughs as the perfect solution to his problem.  Immediately smitten as he is by the teen’s irreverent persona, Walter should have sensed trouble ahead.  Unfortunately, he does not – and his affair with the girl produces an illegitimate child he wants desperately to hide from his wife.

This boy baby, after he is adopted by a wealthy, childless Jewish couple, will become Ed King, the book’s title character.  Decades later, Ed will have earned his own fortune, reputation, and cult following (a la Steve Jobs), and will be known to the world as “The King of Search” for having developed what seems to be the ultimate search engine.  In the meantime, Diane Burroughs, Ed’s mother, has used her wits to con her way into (and out of) a fortune or two of her own, and his father, the philandering actuary, has used his to keep Lydia in the dark about his long string of love affairs.

David Guterson
Ed King, despite beginning in 1962 and ending in the future, is not a particularly long book - coming in at just 320 pages.  But using relatively few pages to cover more than six decades in the lives of several key characters as he does, forces Guterson to use an annoying amount of third-person summarization to catch the reader up when the author wants to skip over large gaps in time.  That these sections of the book are sometimes dominated by page-long paragraphs detailing some of the book’s driest material, often kills the flow developed in previous chapters and makes it difficult for the reader to maintain momentum.

Surprisingly, despite the intimate details revealed about Ed’s physical relationship with his mother, that relationship comes across as far less shocking than one would imagine. The premise of Ed King is interesting but the first half of the book, during which Ed and his parents get themselves into their ultimate predicament, is the book’s stronger half.  This one is intriguing, but I do not expect it to make many “Best of 2011” lists.

Rated at: 3.0

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)

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