Ed King

( 15 )

Overview

 
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

In Seattle of 1962, Walter Cousins, a mild-mannered actuary 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. When Diane becomes pregnant and leaves their baby on a doorstep, it sets in motion a tragedy of epic proportions. The orphaned child, adopted by an ...

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Overview

 
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year

In Seattle of 1962, Walter Cousins, a mild-mannered actuary 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. When Diane becomes pregnant and leaves their baby on a doorstep, it sets in motion a tragedy of epic proportions. The 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 way of reversing.

Sweeping, propulsive, and darkly humorous, Ed King re-imagines one of the world’s greatest tragedies—Oedipus Rex—for our own era, bringing contemporary urgency to a tale that still has the power to shock and inform.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.)
From the Publisher
“Guterson . . . retells one of the oldest stories we know in a way that makes you hang on every twist and turn. You know where you’re going, but the trip is such a literary sightseer’s delight that you still enjoy every minute of it. . . . Even as you know your final destination, the route Guterson uses will keep you entertained the whole way. The way he makes Ed-ipus finally see, peeling the layers back one at a time, is ingenious. Guterson is one of America’s most talented novelists. This time, he has taken on a daunting task and succeeded. . . . [Ed King] should add to Guterson’s already glittering reputation.”
—Howard Owen, Fredericksburg.com 
 
“Sweeping. . . Ed King, a reimagination of Sophocles’ ‘Oedipus Rex,’ the Greek tale of patricide and incest,  is grounded in spot-on morality tales of exceedingly normal people who are doing their best to struggle through their middle- and upper-middle-class existence. . . . We meet the characters of Ed King in ensemble fashion. While their stories—and the bonds that connect them—are the stuff of sometimes far-fetched fiction, their personalities and behavior are all too believable. These are people more or less just like us. . . . Guterson clearly has made his bet on nature, not nurture. What’s bred in the bone guides each character in this well-told tale. [Guterson’s] portraits of humanity are real, and exceedingly enjoyable to read.”
—Adam Lashinsky, The San Francisco Chronicle 
 
“It takes a lot of nerve and perhaps a special brand of madness to take on the classics, and it doesn’t get more classic than the ancient Greek tragedies . . . especially when the play in question happens to be Sophocles’ magnum opus Oedipus the King. Yet with his latest novel, Ed King, author David Guterson does what many might consider the unthinkable: brings Oedipus into the modern age. . . . It would be a shame to ruin all the twists and turns that Oedipus/Ed—who in Guterson’s version becomes a celebrity billionaire through the power of the Internet—faces on his journey. Even for those who are well versed in Sophocles, Ed King is filled with plenty of surprises and sly homage to the original (as well as a few other Greek myths), and half the fun here is reveling in the sheer cheekiness of the narrative. Ed King is not a new story, yet Guterson has managed to infuse this novel with feelings of freshness, relevance and even believability that are sure to delight 21st-century readers. A special pleasure will be experienced by those who can appreciate how the old elements have been modernized. Oedipus may not have been Guterson’s to begin with, but by the end, readers will have no doubts that Ed King is a creation entirely his own.”
—Stephanie Harrison, BookPage

“The Greek gods ran a pitiless universe. David Guterson's brilliant new novel, Ed King, mirrors that world, but it sets the wheels in motion in 1960s Seattle, as it follows the city's transformation from a sleepy, self-satisfied city to a 21st-century tech powerhouse. Ambition and desire drive the plot (it must be said that there is a whole lot of sex in this book) along with the fundamental irony that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions. . . . Ed King is compulsively readable and witheringly funny. Guterson's narrative voice—by turns savage and sad, amused and outraged—becomes a kind of Greek chorus of one. From the self-reverential blather of liberals to the gaming industry's nihilistic love of violence to the winner-take-all world of software and search engines, Guterson skewers it all, as he tracks Ed's ascendancy to the top of the tech world as the ‘King of Search.’ He interweaves the story with enough mythological references to keep even the most ardent classicist entertained. The technological titans of Ed King, walled off in their estates and kingdoms, and privy to the best life that money can buy, strive and strain with little thought to where all their efforts might be headed. It forces the thought: what have all the technological achievements of Microsoft, Amazon, Apple wrought, when it comes to changing certain fundamental certainties of human nature? Ed believes the sky is the limit. Will [he] cheat death? Will he dodge the bullet of fate? In the world of Ed King, what brings the all-powerful ‘King of Search’ to his final reckoning will keep the reader enthralled until the final page of this transcendently dark and dazzling book.”
—Mary Ann Gwinn, The Seattle Times

“For a while after I finished Ed King, I wondered: With cheap, easy, 24-hour access to humanity's weirdest, creepiest, freakiest behavior, do we need a reboot of the Oedipus myth? Guterson persuasively argues that the answer is yes. While his latest novel is indeed full of sex, Ed King stands at polar opposite to the sad line-crossings of pornography. Guterson has trucked with Ovid and Homer and dear old Mr. Sophocles to merrily smash taboos like crockery and bring into the 21st century the old story of a man who kills his father, marries his mother and becomes a god. Ed King is dense with Guterson’s customary needle-sharp prose. Guterson even drove me to my Bullfinch's to track the allusions to his sources. Those old stories survived millennia because they tell us about the human condition. Brave writers like Guterson can renew them to observe that some things are taboo for good reason; go ahead and break them, but there's no avoiding the consequences.”
—Anne Saker, Oregon Live 

 “In his daring novel, David Guterson reimagines Oedipus Rex in contemporary America. Unlike Oedipus in the original Greek drama, Ed is not royalty per se but the contemporary equivalent: a billionaire tech titan, ‘the King of Search.’  Born of a fling of a married man and a much-younger British au pair, baby Ed is left on a stranger’s doorstep and soon adopted. Ed grows up handsome, intellectually gifted, and powered by a relentless self-confidence. The narrative runs briskly through decades and multiple points of view as Guterson carves a wry edge into Sophocles’s tragedy about an abandoned baby who grows up to kill his father and marry his mother.  When [Ed and his mother] meet by chance, the attraction is immediate and the implications horrifying, though not to the lustily oblivious couple. Guterson keeps the novel winningly good-natured and almost farcical, all the better to teach timeless lessons about hubris, ambition, and the consequences of long-ago sins.”
—Karen Holt, O Magazine 
 
“[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
 

From the Hardcover edition.

Library Journal
Walter Cousins has an institutionalized wife, two kids, and a job to hold down, but he still manages to hire, seduce, and impregnate a British nanny, Diane Burroughs, setting in motion a tale of mythic proportions. Refusing to abort, the wily Diane gives birth to a baby boy, abandons him, and proceeds to shake down Walter for a monthly check that starts her on the road to entrepreneurship. Diane's baby is adopted by Dr. and Mrs. Dan King, who, after forging a birth certificate, perch their Eddie on a pedestal so high he can't help but fall. Walter becomes a serial philanderer, Ed builds an Internet empire, and readers watch in horror as three disparate lives hurtle toward their fate in this uneven reimagining of the Oedipus myth. VERDICT While Diane's character practically jumps off the page, the titular Ed King comes across as a cardboard cutout. What commences as a sophisticated, Franzen-like look at the foibles and dashed dreams of the American family devolves into a melodrama that just doesn't feel authentic. Still, Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars; Our Lady of the Forest) has a reputation for handling hot-button topics, and his fans will likely clamor for this. [See Prepub Alert, 4/4/11.]—Sally Bissell, Lee Cty. Lib. Syst., Ft. Myers, FL
Kirkus Reviews
From Guterson (The Other, 2008, etc.), a retelling of Oedipus Rex for the information age.

In 1962 Seattle, actuary Walter Cousins hires a British exchange student as au pair to help with his children while his wife recovers from her nervous breakdown. Soon he and Diane, a 15-year-old sociopath, are sleeping together. She becomes pregnant and disappears with the baby. He spends the rest of his life sending her child support, unaware she has abandoned the infant on a doorstep in a prosperous neighborhood. A random couple finds the foundling and turns him over to an agency that arranges an adoption. Alice and Dan King never disclose to their son Ed that he is adopted while raising him in their loving reformed Jewish household. During a rebellious period in his teens, Ed gets into a highway fracas with a stranger. Ed leaves the scene of the resulting fatal accident emotionally shaken but is never caught. After a brief bout of debilitating guilt, Ed graduates high school, where an affair with his teacher gives him a predilection for older women. As a math genius in college, Ed focuses on the "nascent field of search" while his equally brilliant but geekier younger brother Simon (the Kings' biological son from an unexpected post-adoption pregnancy) becomes a success at computer gaming. Meanwhile Diane has recreated herself several times, moving up and down the socio-economic ladder, scamming and being scammed. She's 42 but looks 32 when she and Ed meet at an exhibit on probability that coincidentally she first attended with Walter. Their mutual attraction is immediate. Soon Ed's company has grown bigger than Google. But in 2017, his experiments into artificial intelligence and genome mapping lead him to unsettling discoveries about his past as well as his present.

More comedy than tragedy: It's hard to garner much sympathy for characters whose lives are determined by their own selfish choices as much as by fate, but Guterson maintains an enjoyably sharp edge to his humor that will keep readers hooked.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307455901
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/24/2012
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 934,469
  • Product dimensions: 5.32 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Biography

Like many great writers before him, David Guterson draws on the rich local culture of the Pacific Northwest for inspiration in creating unforgettable characters and settings. Guterson credits many influences on his writing, beginning with his father, Murray Guterson, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer: His father's example taught him first and foremost to choose a career he would love, which also meant making positive contributions to the world.

Guterson was intrigued by the narrative of his father's cases. He often sat in on trials, but never felt the urge to become an attorney. When he started college, after one week in a creative writing class, he decided to become a writer. He eventually studied under Charles Johnson (author of Middle Passage), developing his ideas about the moral function of literature, and concluded that it is the obligation of writers to present moral questions for reflection.

As Guterson honed his writing skills, he investigated a variety of jobs that would afford him the time to practice his craft. He finally chose to become an English teacher, mainly because he wanted to surround himself with great books and authors. He moved to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, teaching at the local high school, writing short stories, and freelancing as a journalist for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine.

During his years as a teacher, Guterson discovered another major influence in To Kill a Mockingbird. "No other book had such an enormous impact [on me]" he has said of Harper Lee's splendid Southern classic. "I read it 20 times in 10 years and it never got old, only richer, deeper and more interesting." He admits freely to borrowing many of the novel's structural and thematic elements for his own 1994 tour de force, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Although it was not his first book (he had previously published a collection of short stories and a treatise on home schooling), there is no denying that Snow Falling on Cedars -- ten years in the making and a true labor of love -- put Guterson on the literary map. Set in 1954 on an island off the coast of Washington State, the novel tells the intertwined stories of an interracial love affair and a murder trial that divides a community still haunted by its shameful wartime past. Critics responded ecstatically, calling it "haunting" (L.A. Times), "compelling...heartstopping" (The N.Y. Times Book Review), and "luminous" (Time magazine). The book went on to win the 1995 Pen/Faulkner Award; and the following year, Guterson was named to Granta's list of Best Young American Novelists.

Far from prolific, Guterson writes slowly and with great deliberation, averaging a book every four to five years. Blessed with almost preternatural descriptive skills, he is known as a writer's writer, polishing sentences to pristine perfection and creating stories of elegiac grace. He is disarmingly candid about the difficulties of his craft, claiming that each literary endeavor brings with it a paralyzing fear of failure that slows the process even further. "It doesn't matter who you are, how many awards you've won, how popular you are, or how much critical acclaim you've had," he has said. "When it comes time to sit down and write the next book, you're deathly afraid that you're not up to the task." Fortunately for his many fans, Guterson's misgivings seem totally unfounded!

Good To Know

When he won the 1995 Pen/Faulkner award for Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson quickly recognized the reclusive Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird for his success. He wrote to Lee asking her to come to the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., but being a highly private woman, she didn't attend.

Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted for a 1999 film of the same title, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

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    1. Hometown:
      Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 4, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Education:
      M.A., University of Washington

Read an Excerpt

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 at Piersall-Crane, Inc., whose wife, that summer, had suffered a nervous breakdown. Diane had been in his house for less than a week—mothering his kids, cleaning, making meals—when he noticed a new word intruding on his assessment of her. ‘Here I am,’ thought Walter, ‘an actuary, a guy who weighs risk for a living, and now, because I’m infatuated with the wrong person—because I’m smitten by an 18 year old--I’m using the word fate.’

Diane had been peddled to Walter, by an office temp familiar with her current host family, as “a nice girl from the U.K. who needs work to extend her visa.” Walter, who at 34 had never left North America, thought “au pair” sounded pretentious—“you mean  babysitter,” he told the temp. Immediately he regretted his provincialism, so he added, “I could also go with nanny.” The temp’s comeback was sharp. She was younger than he was, wore formidable boots, and had an air of immunity to an office flirt like Walter. “No, definitely, it’s au pair,” she said. “She’s here on a visa. She’s from out of the country. If you take her on, you become her host father, and you give her an allowance for whatever she does for you—child care or housework or whatever.”

Au pair it was, then. Walter took down the phone number, chatted with Diane’s host mother, then spoke to the girl herself. In no position to be picky--he needed help yesterday—he hired Diane on the spot.

“This is hard to explain,” he’d explained, “but my wife’s . . . hospitalized.”

Back came the sort of English inflections it was difficult for him not to be charmed by. “In hospital,” she said. “I do hope it isn’t serious.”

“No,” he said, “but meanwhile there’s the kids. Four and three. Barry and Tina. Out of diapers, but still, they’re tricky to corral.”

“Then allow me just a smidgeon of shameful self-promotion. What you need is an English au pair, sir, adept with a rodeo rope.”

“I think you mean lasso.”

“A lass with a lasso, then, for when they’re mucking about starkers.”

“That’s what I need. Something like that.”

“Well,” said Diane. “I’m your girl.”

This flagrantly forward use of language—neat, cunning phrases and bald innuendo--from the mouth of a high school girl jockeying for work was new in his American ear. Diane sounded quick-witted and cheerfully combative--qualities he’d always found winning and attractive--as in her screed on the U.S. State Department and its byzantine visa requirements. “I’m still keen to go to college in America,” she told him, “but at the moment I’m furious with your Seattle passport office. They’re trying, actually, to throw me out.”

The next Sunday, with his kids complaining in the back seat of his Lincoln Premiere, Walter went to escort this girl from her host family’s large Victorian near Seward Park to his brick-veneered ranch house in Greenwood. He hoped Diane wouldn’t be too disappointed when she discovered she was moving down in the world, and as he parked on the cobbles fronting the Victorian, he imagined himself apologizing for having nothing to offer in the way of gilding or ambience. Seward Park, after all, dripped old money and featured lake views; Greenwood, by contrast, was dowdy and decrepit, with summer-arid grass patches and sagging gutters. Walter, of course, would have liked a better neighborhood, but his was a notoriously mid-wage profession, a fact he hadn’t reckoned with at Iowa State but was reckoning with now, too late. Not that it was bad at Piersall-Crane, where he held down a cubicle by a window. Walter took certain consolations there—in collegial hobnobbing, in crisply dressed women, and in the higher realms of actuarial science, which for him had innate satisfactions. That the predictive power of numbers on a large scale could be brought to bear on future events—for Walter, that was like an esoteric secret and, as he put it to himself, sort of mystical. Okay, it wasn’t art or philosophy, but it was still deep, which almost no one understood.

When he first saw her, the au pair struck him, when he saw her first, as nowhere close to legal. She looked like a child, unfinished, a sprout--no hairdo or make-up, no jewelry, unadorned-- she looked like the younger sister of a girl he’d dated long ago, in high school. Her abraded, leather suitcases, strapped and buckled, and riddled with tarnished rivets that looked shot from a machine gun—a matched set, though one was a junior version of the other--waited for Walter on the porch. Propped on the clasp of the larger one was a transistor radio with an ivory plastic strap and ivory knobs. Feeling like a porter—but also like a honeymooner--he hauled her over-stuffed luggage to the Lincoln’s trunk while Diane, in dungarees, doled out last minute hugs and delivered farewells in her disarming accent. “Lovely,” he heard her say. “Perfect.” Then he held the car door wide for her, and when she turned, brightly, to greet his kids in the back seat, he looked, surreptitiously, down the gap that opened between the rear waist of her dungarees and the nether regions of her back, at the shadow there, the practical white undies, and the reddish down along her tailbone.

It was so—you never knew; you couldn’t predict. Not even an actuary knew what would happen—there were broad trends, of course, he could express in tables, but individual destinies were always nebulous. In Walter’s case, this meant his wife was out of the house while he, against the odds, on a fair summer morning, was collecting up this enticing piece of luck to install in the bedroom across the hall from his. How had this dangerous but fortuitous thing happened? What had he done to deserve this risk? With these questions and her underwear in mind, he chose, as his route, Lake Washington Boulevard; there might be, he sensed, an intangible benefit in such a sinuous and scenic drive. He also decided to take all 3 kids to the booming, newly opened Seattle World’s Fair, because in its context he could function like a grandee, bestowing cotton candy and largesse, before introducing Diane to Greenwood. With this plan in mind, he motored past pleasure craft and magnificent trees while, on the passenger side, twined hands in her lap, Diane answered questions, ingratiated herself skillfully and easily to his offspring, and brought to his mind the pert and perfect Hayley Mills, that upbeat, full-lipped, earnest starlet who, on the cover of Life recently, in a sailor outfit, had puckered, naughtily, for a kiss. In fact, as Diane chatted up his progeny in lilting tones but with a teasing irony that, over their heads, might be aimed at him, she was a drop-dead ringer for the 16 year old Disney darling who’d been in newspapers and magazines lately for turning down the lead role in Lolita. A morsel, a nymphet, in frilly socks and Keds, a junior high date—the beach walk, for sodas—and at the kind of youthful sexual crest that even a 4 year old could sense. Sure enough, Barry, with a 4 year old’s primal yearning, leaned over the front seat and settled his head on his hands, like a cherub posed for a Christmas portrait, the better to bask in Diane’s nubile aura. Flicking 2 fingers against his bony shoulder, the object of his son’s newly stirred affections chirped, as if on cue, “I love your name, Barry, really I do. And Tina,” she added, “is so lovely.” After that, she shot Walter a look, and winked as though he, her new employer, was instead her intimate chauffeur.

“You truly have great names,” he tossed out.

“Tiptop, the best, brilliant.”

“Barry and Tina: it’s genius, it’s beautiful.”

Diane, and then Walter, laughed.

And she laughed an hour later—the same truncated notes, issued through her nose and throat--when, on the mammothly rising Space Wheel, they all rocked precariously in the apex tub, 90 feet above the mania of the fair grounds. She laughed because, taking hold of the lap bar, he’d muscled them into rocking harder while Tina put up conflicted resistance (“Daddy!”) and Barry applied a grit-filled assist. “Beastly!” hissed Diane, pulling Tina toward her. “Never mind such recklessness, love--he’s only toying with your dear, precious life.”

“But Tina absolutely adores danger. Don’t you,‘luv’.”

To this his daughter had a one word reply, delivered while clutching the au pair’s stellar thighs: “Diane.”

On the fairgrounds, Walter followed Diane like a dog, so he could admire how she wore those dungarees. There were a lot of bare-armed dresses on the midway, and peppermint tops, and circus stripes, but nothing that could beat Diane in dungarees. Nothing could beat Diane’s tilting ponytail when she lifted her chin to pack in wads of cotton candy; nothing could beat her in the Fine Arts Pavilion with her lovely, little hands at the small of her back, leaning toward a painting called “Oedipus and the Sphinx.” Barry stood beside her with his head on her hip, and Walter stood alongside with Tina in his arms. The odd and slightly uncomfortable thing was that Oedipus had been painted monumentally naked--two spears, points down, beside one foot--while the Sphinx, half in darkness, winged and severe, pointed her bare breasts, from startling close range, at his face. “Ace,” said Diane, examining it. “I must say I like that running fellow in the corner. He’s quite active—he fixes Oedipus to the canvas. It’s arresting, so to speak, wouldn’t you say?”

Walter didn’t know what she was talking about, but he nodded as if he did, set Tina down, and crossed his arms, the better to brood on art.

“Look how he’s brushed in the shadows of the cave,” Diane said. “Look how the sun plays in those rocks, lower left.”

Did he read her correctly? Was he getting her signals? Because it seemed to Walter she was skirting the obvious—the nudity two feet in front of their faces--so as to give them both a chance to linger. She seemed, at the moment--if he wasn’t mistaken--a prick tease of the precocious teen brand. He was confident that the point she meant for him to take was, as long as neither of us mention nudity, we can go on standing here, looking at pornography together.

“Personally, for me, it’s the blue sky,” he said. “That amazing blue sky in the background.”

Again her convulsive laugh, as at an inside joke, which he was now laboring to solicit at every turn.

They went to examine The World of Tomorrow. The line for this exhibit was long and hot, but eventually they found themselves inside the Bubbleator with 150 other agitated fair-goers, ascending, as if inside a soap bubble, toward “The Threshold and the Threat.” “The Threshold and the Threat” had been highlighted in press reports as a thought-provoking and instructional tour-de-force--Walter thought that sounded good for the kids--and was billed in the fair’s extensive guide as, “a 21-minute tour of the future.” Yet after a half minute of ominously slow rising to a soundtrack called—Walter knew this from the guide—“Man in Space With Sounds,” the Bubbleator arrived not in the future but underneath a strangely lit semblance of the night sky. Stars and planets were projected onto distorted cubes, or on something like magnified cells in a beehive. What was this anyway? Why had they been lifted to this surreal destination? Tina clung anxiously to his pant leg, and Barry looked frightened and aghast. In contrast, the new au pair only stretched her back, pointing her girlish breasts at the faux heavens. Then she dropped them, and they huddled together like an abducted family in the bowels of a B movie spaceship. Everyone had to endure more “Man in Space With Sounds”—alarms, theramin wails, inharmonious strings and brass, much of it familiar to Walter as the sort of thing that backed Vincent Price—until, cast in celluloid on the weirdly curving cubes, a frightened family crouched in a fallout shelter. This was too much for Tina, who covered her eyes. Walter wondered who at the World’s Fair had given the green light to “The Threshold and the Threat,” because whatever else it was—beside some pointyheaded goofball’s dark view of the future--it was also, in his view, wrong. Subliminal, demonic, scarring, you name it, but best summed up as wrong. ‘We should have been told before we got in line,’ he thought angrily. ‘Somebody should have warned us.’

And now, on the cubes, came one image atop another, kaleidoscopic, fleeting, discombobulating, disassociative—jetports, monorails, the Acropolis, a mushroom cloud--before, again, that pathetic, cellared family, this time with JFK exhorting them, and all other Americans, in his Bostonian brahmin brogue, to build a brighter world through technology.

The hallucinatory journey through apocalypse ended, and Diane said only, “That was fab.”

“That was a nightmare,” countered Walter. “Let’s get out of here.”

Outside he felt reassured by the real world, and so, clearly, did his kids. They all breathed happily the June carnival air, pregnant as it was with cooking grease and promise. In the Food Pavilion it was Orange Juliuses all around--the kids and Diane sucking away at jointed, double straws, while he, having bolted his Extra Large, ate a corn dog. Just let it happen, he told himself, when Tina implored him for a Belgian waffle—be carefree and magnanimous, stay with the pointed humor (“How about the Girls of the Galaxy Exhibit?”), and tease them all often, with easy tenderness. There were solid points to be earned, he felt sure, by riding the fine line between paternalism and friendship, between daddy and a nice guy with cash.

“Girls of the Galaxy?” Diane asked.

“According to the fair guide they pose naked for Polaroids.”

“Including Earth girls?”

“Especially Earth girls.”

“That wouldn’t do in England. Not at all.”

Walter shrugged as if Girls of the Galaxy was just old hat in his world. “My, what do you call it, bonny lass,” he said, “you’re not in England anymore.” Diane separated her lips from her straws. “‘Bonny’s’ Scottish,” she said, looking into her drink. “In England, you might try ‘stunning’.”

“Stunning, then.”

“Or ‘comely’ would do—I would accept that.”

They moved along until the kids got tired and the lines for the bathrooms too frustrating. It was time to go home but, because he wanted to—it was the only thing he was really interested in at the fair—they visited The World of Science building and its Probability Exhibit. Here, in a glass box, thousands of pennies dropped mechanically down a chute and were shunted thereafter past equidistant dividers so as to demonstrate the inexorability of a bell curve. As the pennies fell in essential randomness, they inevitably built up a standard normal distribution (“A Gaussian distribution,” he told the kids and Diane), which never varied and was a fixed law of nature; the pennies made a perfectly symmetrical hill, the formation of which could be relied on. He admired this so much he got effusive about it and explained, to Diane, what a bell-curve was, and in language he hoped didn’t sound too actuarial delineated the “central limit theorem” associated with what they were witnessing. “Put it this way,” he said, moving closer to her. “The sum of variables at work among those pennies follows a unique attractor distribution.”

“How interesting,” she shot back, mirthful at his expense, and mimicking his enthusiasm while flipping her ponytail absentmindedly. “An attractor distribution.” They were now 6 hours into their relationship, and already, it was more than he could take.

They were now six hours into their relationship, and already it was more than he could take.

From the Hardcover edition.

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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?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 15 )
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(8)

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Sort by: Showing all of 15 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 15, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a brilliant satirical modernization of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex

    In 1962 Seattle, thirtyish actuary Walter Cousins' wife Lydia suffers a nervous breakdown. He hires teenage English exchange student Diane Burroughs as an au pair to take care of his two kids, four years old Barry and three years old Tina. A week into her employment, he is sleeping with her. Diane becomes pregnant but vanishes with her newborn.

    For years afterward, Walter sends child support payments to Diane for a child he has not seen. He remains ignorant to the fact that Diane abandoned her infant. Alice and Dan King adopt Ed; he is raised in a nurturing reformed Jewish family. As a teen Ed gets into a fatal highway incident, but walks away shaken only and has an affair with a high school teacher. He becomes a brilliant mathematician working on the field of search. Diane and Ed meet at the same exhibit she attended years earlier with Walter and his kids. They are attracted to one another even as his firm Pythia becomes mega. However, his genome mapping leads him to much of the truth about who he is not.

    This is a brilliant satirical modernization of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex in which the Gods are computers and fate is avarice fueled by happenchance that brings womanizing Walter, Diane the con artist, and Ed the older woman lover with a Freudian Oedipus Complex together. The three protagonists are not likable individuals yet their human foibles make for a fascinating, often amusing lampooning of contemporary relationships.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    Maddie

    Keep going!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2014

    Great!

    Cool!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Zack

    Good job! Keep it up!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2014

    Lifetime Of Memories- Part Two (Edd)

    I smiled widely as I closed my laptop. She's actually coming back! Everything is going perfect since the last two years after that summer. I had gotten perfect grades, working on plenty of animations, and so much more! What I also remember is Tord and Mary actually starting going out and they planned that Mary is gonna move in with Tord. I was so happy! I skipped down the street to Tom's house. Just then, Tom opened the door before I could knock. "Inside, Loverboy." He said and I skipped in. "Tom, I'm in more love with Claire." I announced. "Didn't think that was possible." He said sarcasticlly. "It turns out she and her friends are moving here!" I said dreamily. "Cool." He said nonchelantly. I siged dreamily again and stared at the ceiling. "Tom, I think I have a serious case of Love!" I said, giggling. Tom rolled his eyeless sockets and dragged by my feet outside. "Tell the world!" He said. I stood up and smiled. "I AM IN DEEP LOVE!" I yelled. Claire and I could always hang out now! The best night of my life. I started dancing and giggling like crazy. I immediately thought of te one time where we kissed in the rain after Frozen. Such a good movie. I got my phone out and checked the time. 4:30. I ran home to Skype Claire. I am so dumb. Guess that's falling deeper in love. ((Wrap it up up up Wrap it up up up))

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 18, 2013

    His best book yet!

    A child given up at birth. Characters so richly drawn that the reader feels he knows them all personally. Intrigue that keeps you reading to see what will happen next. And payback? Enough of that to leave you reviewing your own life and hoping you were a good boy or girl.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 24, 2012

    highly recommended

    this is what good fiction should be. It kept me interested and surprised. What an imagination. Loved it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 10, 2012

    Fascinating

    Suspensaful and well written, characters were not very likeable, but were always interesting- modern spin on Oedipal tale

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2011

    fans might like the twists

    Library ebook- plot is better than many other best sellers because of the character build. Entertaining as a light read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 2, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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