Synopses & Reviews
A sweeping, propulsive, darkly humorous new novel by the best-selling author of Snow Falling on Cedars:
a story of destiny, desire, and destruction that reimagines Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex
for our own era.
In Seattle in 1962, Walter Cousins, a mild-mannered actuary — “a guy who weighs risk for a living” — takes a risk of his own, and makes the biggest error of his life. He sleeps with Diane Burroughs, the sexy, not-quite-legal British au pair who’s taking care of his children for the summer. Diane gets pregnant and leaves their baby on a doorstep, but not before turning the tables on Walter and setting in motion a tragedy of epic proportions. Their orphaned child, adopted by an adoring family and named Edward Aaron King, grows up to become a billionaire Internet tycoon and an international celebrity — the “King of Search” — who unknowingly, but inexorably, hurtles through life toward a fate he may have no power to shape.
An instant classic — David Guterson’s most daring and dazzling novel yet — that brings a contemporary urgency to one of the greatest stories of all time.
"Guterson (The Other) uses key elements of Oedipus the King as scaffolding for a snarky comedy skewering contemporary values. In 1962, a 34-year-old actuary seduces an underage au pair, producing a child who, abandoned, is adopted by the prosperous King family and named Edward. But Ed is not a king in name only; he grows into the 'king of search,' a man in the mold of Jobs or Gates running a company/kingdom akin to Google called Pythia. Guterson fans may be surprised at his lack of sympathy this time out; his characters are superficially realized and relentlessly ridiculed. The cure for the guilt Ed feels over causing a stranger's death? The right antidepressant. Ed has copious encounters with older girls, and then older women, a recurring theme Guterson employs partly for fun, but mostly to trumpet his point: Ed's not only Sophocles' Oedipus but also Freud's, thanks to an oversized (and oversimplified) Oedipus complex. But Guterson gives the myth neither new perspective nor fresh twist, and the ancient drama doesn't illuminate the present. The novel's worldview doesn't allow for heroes or gods, and treats fate as if it were mere coincidence. But the story is propelled by irony, much of it delightful, and if we're able to mock ourselves, we can't be all bad. Can we? (Oct.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"David Guterson is a man of many voices, and they all speak volumes." The Seattle Times
"A serious and searching craftsman, very much in the American grain." Time
"[A] major writer...Guterson possesses a remarkable gift for capturing people and places, etching them into the reader’s mind." USA Today
"[In this] tale of mythic proportions...readers watch in horror as three disparate lives hurtle toward their fate in this reimagining of the Oedipus myth....[Guterson's] fans will likely clamor for this." Sally Bissell, Library Journal
"[An] engrossing, constantly twisting retelling of Oedipus Rex...darkly funny." The Huffington Post
"A retelling of Oedipus Rex for the information age [that is] more comedy than tragedy. Guterson maintains an enjoyably sharp edge to his humor that will keep readers hooked." Kirkus Review
"How would a modern man go about killing his father and marrying his mother, just like Sophocles' Oedipus? Guterson's vivid recreation...is a study in outsized avarice and arrogance. Exuberantly rambunctious, Guterson's bold pondering of the Greek classic is a fiendishly tantalizing romp." Carol Haggas, Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
David Guterson is the author of the novels East of the Mountains, The Other, Our Lady of the Forest, and Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award, as well as a story collection, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind, and Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. He lives in Washington State.
Reading Group Guide
1. In Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex,
a prophecy is made that a newborn prince will kill his father and marry his mother. How did this expectation affect your interpretation of Ed King
2. The novel diverges from the classic tale in several ways, notably in the fates of Ed and Diane. How did David Guterson make this story his own—and a story for our own time? And why did he change the ending?
3. What purpose is served by the message-board conversations that begin and end the novel?
4. Discuss the role of fate in the novel. Was it possible for things to play out differently or were the major events predestined?
5. The idea of being a visionary, or of being able to predict the future, begins with Walter’s job as an actuary and continues throughout the novel. What point is Guterson making?
6. Alice pricks her finger on a rose thorn while taking Ed home from the adoption agency, staining his blanket with her blood. (page 60) She sees this as an unhappy omen. In what ways was she right, and how was she wrong?
7. What role does Judaism play in the novel? How does being raised a Jew shape Ed’s personality?
8. How does Ed get over Walter’s death? Why does he stalk Tina, and why does he give up?
9. What makes Diane so obsessed with her looks? Is she a narcissist? Is Ed?
10. At the party thrown by Prophecy, a Tarot card reader tells Ed, “You’re dangerous to the world and to yourself.” He responds, “Don’t make me laugh.” (page 166) Did Ed turn out to be a danger to the world or only to himself?
11. Both Ed and Simon are math whizzes. How do their destinies differ and why?
12. Discuss Club’s betrayal of Diane. Were you surprised by this turn of events? Were his actions—or her revenge—justified?
13. In the novel, there are several types of sibling relationships: adopted brothers, half siblings, and siblings who share both parents. How does a shared bloodline influence their interactions? How is it different in the case of Ed and Simon, who are unaware they’re not blood relatives?
14. When Ed and Diane meet, the narrator pauses to address the reader directly: “Now we approach the part of the story a reader can’t be blamed for having skipped forward to . . . ” (page 236) What was your reaction to Guterson’s narrative choice here? Why do you think he made it?
15. What is the significance of Guido, the pilot, and his anagrams? Is there a secret he unlocks about identity or authorship?
16. Ed becomes known as the King of Search, and he’s seeking to create the “perfect search.” How does Guterson use the idea of search as a metaphor?
17. Discuss the metaphor of Cybil and artificial intelligence. Is Ed playing God?
18. Ed’s last words are, “The entire universe will know my name! The world will remember my name!” How did Edward Aaron King’s hubris contribute to his (literal) downfall?
The questions, discussion topics, and reading list that follow are intended to enhance your reading group's discussion of Ed King,
a brilliant modern reimagining of an ancient tragedy by the critically acclaimed, best-selling author of Snow Falling on Cedars.
“David Guterson is a man of many voices, and they all speak volumes.” —The Seattle Times
“A serious and searching craftsman, very much in the American grain.” —Time
“[A] major writer . . . Guterson possesses a remarkable gift for capturing people and places, etching them into the reader’s mind.” —USA Today