on 10 January 2012
We all like a book that we simply cannot put down. Sadly, for me, Ed King just didn't come into this genre. I could put it down for hours, days, and even a week at one point, before going back to where I'd left off. I just couldn't find the storyline captivating enough to even get beyond the third chapter. So I did what the author actually expected us all to do... I went straight to page 237 to see what the fuss was all about. When I got there I was greatly disappointed.
If you're a thrill-seeker looking for an exciting read then I wouldn't recommend this one. The only thrill I got was selling the book on Ebay for a fiver!
Ed King is a modern-day American re-telling of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, in which the abandoned child of a 15-year-old English au pair is secretly adopted and brought up to be a high-achieving golden boy. This foundling builds his own billion-dollar IT company, only to discover that his parents were not who he thought they were and worse, neither is his wife. It's clever, sharp and often funny, and yet there just seems to be something missing.
That something could, I suppose, be suspense - after all, the two things everyone knows about Oedipus is that he inadvertently killed his father and slept with his mother, so the experience of reading Ed King is largely a matter of waiting patiently to see how Guterson will arrange for Ed to do these things, rather than being shocked when he does.
Or perhaps what's missing is any real degree of sympathy with the protagonist. Ed is neither interesting nor likeable: he's a spoilt narcissist who seems to breeze through life with only one small glitch when he's briefly depressed about killing someone, and is inexplicably irresistible to women of all ages from the age of about 12 upwards. Consequently, after endless plodding pages about his brattish teenage behaviour and tedious college years, full of hubris and a sense of entitlement, I found it remarkably hard to care about his fate.
Admittedly, the supporting characters are more engaging. Walter, Ed's father, is a sad, inadequate little man who pays a troubled English teenager to look after his children, and although there's little about Walter to like, his deeply creepy attraction to Diane, sense of inadequacy and nagging dissatisfaction with his lot makes him interesting, at least. Diane herself is complex, clever and resourceful, albeit far from scrupulous. However, I found her relationship with her deadbeat half-brother deeply unconvincing, and hard as he tries, Guterson simply can't write colloquial British dialogue with any degree of authenticity. There were times when I winced. It's as if the author did lots of research and made lots of notes from English films and books, and then tried to include everything he'd learnt, meaning that a lot of the scenes with Diane and her brother, or even just from Diane's point of view, seem awkward and forced to an English reader.
The way Guterson has updated the Oedipus myth to subvert the American Dream is undeniably clever. Mythical Oracles are replaced with mysterious tarot readers and King's company's own super-advanced search engines. Pythia is King's company; the Greek chorus that frames the narrative takes the form of online forum users. It's all very skilfully done and often witty, and a large part of my enjoyment of this book came from spotting the allusions and parallels - even when they're painted with a pretty broad brush.
Unfortunately, however, overall the book is often quite simply rather dull. The nature of the story means that there are many chapters which just feel like endless plodding exposition in the build-up to 'and now he realises he's married to his mum', which of course, we all know is coming anyway. If Guterson had just made it all a bit less obvious, a bit less clunky, not so slavishly devoted to Sophocles' plot, I'd have enjoyed Ed King a great deal more.
on 12 February 2012
I bought this as it was the Kindle Deal of the Day. The book starts reasonably well but once the scene has been set for Ed to be adopted without knowing who his real parents are I found the story rapidly degenerated into a pell mell list of things that the characters do to spend their lives until the author gets to the next important plot line, which unfortunately isn't until 75% of the way through the book.
Might have made a reasonable short story but the characters just aren't likeable enough to enjoy reading so many pages about them. In fact by the end of the book I hated them all so much I couldn't have cared less what happened, I was just glad to be finished reading it.
As you might guess, I wouldn't recommend this, even at the Daily Deal price.
on 11 August 2012
Either David Guterson is truly improving with age or my taste for his particular brand of narration and subject matter has developed over the past several years. My reaction to his books seems to see-saw and I admit that unlike most of the literary critics who praised SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS as the pinnacle of storytelling, I was not a big fan of this book finding his exploration of racism against Japanese Americans during the early days of WWII ploddingly slow and generally stereotypical. With EAST OF THE MOUNTAIN I was drawn into the spiritual journey of one man facing death and his "healing" impact on the people whose lives he touches. His next two offerings OUR LADY OF THE FOREST and THE OTHER were okay but definitely nothing special. With ED KING, my personal Guterson see-saw is on the move upward again.
Other reviewers have pointed out the obvious connection between ED KING and Oedipus Rex, with Guterson's relocation of this classic Greek tragedy to modern day Seattle and re-birth of Oedipus as Ed, the egotistical maverick tycoon, created by gene splicing Steven Jobs and Bill Gates. Even Ed's company, Pythia, which appears to be based on Google draws its name from the ORACLE of DELPHI.
While Ed's story is interesting, probably the most challenging and complex character in this book is Diane, Ed's wife/mother. She possesses a certain charisma and her character (or lack thereof) truly provides the underlying vibrations and the viscosity that holds this story together. She could very easily be the gal you most love to hate while Ed provides definite proof that he is his mother's son. Both are so filled with pride and arrogance that they definitely lend credence to the theory of heredity and DNA.
Ed King has none of the idealism nor the heroic folk seen in previous Guterson' novels. The fact of the matter is most of this cast is populated by some pretty despicable characters, and while this new take on an old story is not a grand slam home-run, for this reader at least, ED KING does manage to whack out a solid double.
on 18 February 2012
I wasn't sure what to expect from "Ed King", not having read this author before. I bought it when it was on sale in the Kindle Daily Deal and began it not knowing much beyond the brief online description.
With that in mind, it took me a little while to catch on to its basic premise - that "Ed King" is a reworking of Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex." (Yes, its obvious from the title once you know.)
The story is a slow burning but compelling one. Diane, a teenage au pair seduces/is seduced by Walter, the father of the family she is working for. The resulting baby is left on a doorstep and subsequently adopted by the King family. From then on you follow the story of these three characters as they live their lives. For the first half of the book you could quite easily read it as a quietly cynical satire on American society as the characters progress through the latter half of the twentieth century. But as this is "Oedipus Rex" retold, a particular plotline has to be followed and of course it is. By the time the story closes in the near future, Ed King (by now the rich and powerful "King of Search") has reaped what his parents sowed in an appropriately mythic fashion.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, the only part that I felt awkward about were the authorial interuptions into the story which for me broke the flow. I really liked the liberal helping of Greek mythology running through the story (Pythia, Cybil, the Icarus story etc.) And although the characters are far from likeable they are pretty fascinating. All in all, definitely worth a read.
on 26 April 2012
This book marks a stylistic departure for Guterson from his previous work, which whilst always excellent, can be a bit cerebral and considered. Ed King finds Guterson is rapid fire mode, laying out a roller coaster ride through 50 years of American history, and interestingly into an imagined future, with an almost dystopian view of where some of our current obsessions may take us. The plotting is tight, even though Guterson is retelling a tale we all know well, characters are believable even though their situation is somewhat unlikely and the writing is razor sharp. It's very easy to sit and read this book in one sitting, but that isn't to say its a slight piece of work. Guterson has lots to say in this book, it's just written so well that it's a joy to read, and difficult to put down once started. King, as central character is a complex, not always likeable individual, whom Guterson paints with sensitivity and empathy, but the star of the show is perhaps Diane, manipulative, sassy, narcistic, and unbreakable all rolled into one, she makes for a great street heroine. Ultimately, the demands of the plot (following the myth) do impose a narrative weakness on the book, and although Guterson handles the denouement with style, it does detract slightly from what could have been with a different ending, a book to rival others for the title of Great American Novel. But, one step from greatness, this is still a great, enjoyable and well written book.
I was really surprised that I disliked this novel as I thought Snow on Cedars was excellent and East of the Mountains was nearly as good. Although it has a few interesting episodes and some witty observations, it just didn't engage at all. None of the characters was likeable, nor do we get into their lives because the events are skimmed over like a summary. The scope and speed of the story isn't an excuse: William Boyd did the same thing in two novels, Any Human Heart and New Confessions, and he managed to make them fascinating and engaging from start to finish.
This novel reminded me of the film Royal Tenenbaums. It has the same slightly facetious air but, whereas the film is consistent, it felt to me that Guterson couldn't decide whether it was to be serious or a parody. It shifts between serious moments and slapstick, which might work if it was funny but it wasn't funny and I don't think it was even trying to be funny.
I hate to be negative to an author I previously rated so highly, but for me this was a total flop.
It should be hard to make the story of an adopted man who grows up to murder his father and marry his mother dull, but Guterson manages it. The chapters focusing on Ed are especially boring and I ended up speed reading them. All the characters are so unpleasant that it's impossible to care what happens to them. Guterson's final firework of putting himself, anagramised, into the story as Ed's private pilot, is a particularly damp squib.
on 2 March 2013
This was a very disappointing book in more ways than one. Not only is the author capable of so much more, but Oedipus Rex is a classic tragedy in the truest sense of the word.
However, by updating the story, transferring it to modern America and also merging it with a satire it rang hollow and lost a lot of its power.
The character of Ed King is unlikable to the point where sharing the same headspace with him leaves a nasty taste for the reader. I understand that he's supposed to be a shallow and arrogant character, but by not empathising with your protagonist the power of the tragedy is neutered.
I also felt that the author took too much delight in describing the big moment between Diane and Ed that it felt fatuous and overblown.
A resounding disappointment of a story that I'm glad to be finished with.
on 20 March 2016
The storyline in this modern take on the 'Oedipus' tale is well known, so the basic plot is not a surprise.
In 1962, Walter Cousins - a nebbishy, married actuary living in Seattle - gets his 15-year-old British au pair, Diane Burroughs, pregnant. The wily girl leaves the baby on a doorstep and demands that Walter send her monthly payments in perpetuity. Walter, thinking Diane is raising the child, accedes.
As it happens the baby is put into a foundling home and adopted by an upscale Jewish couple, Dan and Alice King. They name the child Edward Aaron. The Kings soon have a biological son, Simon. 'Eddie and Simie" have very happy childhoods including schools for gifted children, a loving extended family, sports, hobbies, bar mitzvahs, etc.
When Ed enters the teen years, his rebellious nature leads him to become very sexually active, both with teen girls and an 'an older woman' (his teacher). Young Ed's reckless behavior soon causes a road accident that kills his biological father, Walter Cousins. Ed feels terrible guilt about the accident though he doesn't know who Walter is. In fact Ed doesn't even know he's adopted.
Some time after Ed finishes college he meets his biological mother Diane - an older woman who's maintained her beauty with rigorous dieting, work-outs, and plastic surgery - and marries her. And that's the jist of the story.
The book is very long and follows the life of each of the main characters in great detail.
Walter: has numerous affairs and is a failure as a husband and father; his children - Barry and Tina - don't like him and flee home as soon as they can.
Diane: starts her own 'escort' business when she's sixteen (her smarts here are completely not believable); marries a rich ski manufacturing scion; fools her husband into thinking she's infertile; eventually becomes single again.
Dan and Alice King: fine Jewish parents who raise their kids right. The King family atmosphere - including all the 'stick their two cents in' grandparents - is amusing, entertaining, and rings true.
Ed King: very bright young man who apparently inherited his biological mother's wiliness and business acumen. As the book's main protagonist we follow Ed's life step by step, including his youthful love for candy and comic books, swimming ability, math smarts, sexual exploits, psychiatric therapy, success as a 'search engine king', eventual wealth...all the way to middle age when Ed discovers some troubling truths.
I had a hard time getting through this book. The story plods along slowly, most of the people are not likable. and - in the end - I really didn't care what happened to Ed, Diane, or most of the other characters. Narcissistic Diane is especially appalling to me. She's clearly a capable girl who didn't need to be a blackmailer, prostitute, user, and liar.
This is a hard book for me to rate. I debated giving it 2 stars (for tediousness) but the effort put into the writing and characterizations get 3 stars.
Note: I listened to the audio version of this book, narrated by Arthur Morey. Though most of Morey's narration is fine, his 'British accent' (for Diane) is appalling. British accents are pretty familiar to most people from TV and movies and his is weird and nowhere near authentic. This became quite off-putting and pulled me right out of the story time after time.