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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ed King by David Guterson, 2011, * * *

Guterson stormed the publishing industry with his 1994 debut novel Snow Falling on Cedars.  It was a poetic and intensely atmospheric drama that brimmed with issues of morality - simple right and wrong. In three subsequent novels, Guterson changed speeds and became less oriented around plot and community choosing instead to hone in one specific individuals, their inner demons replacing real-world adversaries.  Still, Guterson retained a recognizable style which included his reverence for nature, particularly the rugged, rain-drenched landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, along with his earnestness and dogged attention to detail which continued to define him as a writer. Those days are over. In Ed King, Guterson's unassuming traits have been supplanted by caustic cynicism and ironic humor.  Here Guterson uses key elements of Oedipus the King as scaffolding for a snarky novel 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 Steve Jobs or Bill Gates who runs a company akin to Google called Pythia.  The characters are superficially realized and relentlessly ridiculed; the cure for the guilt that Ed feels over causing a stranger's death is the right antidepressant. Ed has copious encounters with older girls, then older woman, a recurring theme Guterson employs to trumpet his point. Ed is not only Sophocles's Oedipus but also Freud's, thanks to an oversized and over simplified Oedipus complex.  Ed King is an interesting undertaking but the lack of basic storytelling catches up with Guterson as this master of subtle scenes and emotionally resonant moments has managed to write a book devoid of either.  As a result, the superficial characters and their unrelenting amorality eventually begin to grate, as does the preordained story line.

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