ED KING by David Guterson

Book Quote:

“In 1962, Walter Cousins made the biggest mistake of his life: he slept with the au pair for a month. She was an English exchange student named Diane Burroughs, and he was an actuary from Piersall-Crane, Inc., whose wife, that summer, had suffered a nervous breakdown.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody В (NOV 13, 2011)

Ed King had me mesmerized from the first page and did not let up throughout the book. It is a contemporary retelling of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex set in the American northwest. The protagonist’s name, Ed King, means Oedipus Rex. Ed is short for Oedipus and Rex means “king” in Greek. Ed’s middle name is Aaron and one could read into this, “Ed, A King.” There is no real subtlety to the retelling. The characters change but the story remains the same. Ed kills his father and marries his mother. It is a Greek tragedy of great proportions and strength, hubris and loss.

The story opens with Walter Cousins, an actuary, temporarily left without childcare while his wife is hospitalized with a nervous breakdown. The time is the 1960’s. Ed hires a fifteen year-old British au pair, Diane, and begins the biggest mistake of his life – sleeping with her. She becomes pregnant and they agree to have the baby put up for adoption. Instead, she leaves the infant on a front porch in a prosperous neighborhood. The child is eventually adopted by an upper middle class Jewish family and raised with much love.

Diane blackmails Walter for $500 per month in perpetuity, telling him that she kept the child and needs the money for childcare. The character of Diane is well wrought. She is interesting, beguiling, and sly to the max. Over and over she rises to the top only to be brought down by her own hubris.

Ed goes to Stanford where he is a math whiz. After graduation, with some start-up money from his family, he begins a company that is called Pythia and it is reminiscent of Microsoft, as is his character similar to Bill Gates. Ed also is similar to Steve Jobs in that he was adopted and has started up one of the most successful businesses on the planet.

Pythia becomes the largest data search company in the world and Ed is one of the richest men in the world. He has a thing for older women and, wouldn’t you know, somehow he finds and ends up with Diane, sixteen years his senior but still very attractive. His family is a bit troubled by the age difference but learn to accept the marriage.

During his teen years, Ed is a bit of a renegade. He likes to drive fast cars, has little use for adult wisdom and goes his own way. One day he is driving with his girlfriend and a man in a BMW gives him the finger. Ed is incensed and is determined to get the best of this stranger. Ed ends up driving him off the road and this man is killed. His name is Walter Cousins. This episode is an existential moment in Ed’s development. He does not know who Walter is, but the thought of having killed someone else makes him feel psychically ill. He ruminates on it and can not get it off his mind. He gets rid of his car and tries to move on with his life. His girlfriend can’t understand why all of this bothers Ed. No one saw the accident happen and, as far as the law is concerned, Ed is off – free and clear. However, he is punished by himself.

The character of Ed does not have the same depth as Diane. Aside from the existential dilemma posed by killing Walter, Ed has it easy. He’s brilliant and arrogant, filled with hubris. Diane is not only interesting and filled with adventure, but each chapter about her brings on new information that just whets the appetite for more. Ed is much more bland. His story is told from his birth to his death with adequacy but lacks the component of thrill that accompanies Diane’s life.

Guterson is a masterful writer. He knows how to rein the reader in and just hold him captive. There was not one page in this book that bored me. I kept reading with interest and delight as the novel progressed. I highly admire Guterson’s way of redoing a classic in contemporary time and still retaining all the aspects of the original that made it such a classic tragedy in the first place. This is one of my top ten books read this year, without a doubt.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 83 readers
PUBLISHER: Knopf (October 18, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on David Guterson
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
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November 13, 2011 В· Judi Clark В· One Comment
Tags: ,  В· Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary, US Northwest, y Award Winning Author

One Response

  1. Maggie - November 14, 2011

    Thanks for the review, Bonnie. Just got Ed King today from Amazon and looking forward to reading it. I have been teaching Oedipus Rex for more years than I want to remember so especially interested to read Guterson’s take on it

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