Saturday, November 19, 2016

Review of "Ed King" by David Guterson


 

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.


Rating: 3 stars

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