David Guterson ("Snow Falling on Cedars") has long been a favorite Pacific Northwest author, although despite the urging of friends I've somehow failed to read any of his previous books. Other reviews indicate that he's a bit erratic - I cannot speak to his other books, but I can safely write that I love "Ed King."
Daring to play with classic texts is always a dangerous business, and in this case Guterson has set a high bar for himself by choosing Sophocles' "Oedipus Rex" as his source text. Arguably the definitive Greek tragedy of all antiquity, "Oedipus" tells the infamously sad story of a proud man who is condemned by fate to murder his father, marry his mother, and spark a million bad jokes.
Guterson dares to update this story to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Ed King is our Oedipus and is born not to royalty, but is the child of an adulterous affair between the actuary Walter Cousins and his British au pair Diane. Cousins, a risk assessor by trade, knocks up the 15-year old and tries to do his part by her (without leaving his own wife). He has no idea how ruthless and ambitious young Diane is, however, and she is soon blackmailing him into years of child support even though she abandons the infant Ed on the doorstep of prosperous residents in Portland, Oregon.
In short order, King is the proud adopted son of ambitious Jewish parents in Seattle, a math prodigy and natural leader. His new parents never tell him of his adopted status, and after several colorful adventures he's off to Stanford during the 80s, just in time to capitalize on the tech boom and become a billionaire as "the King of Search." Oh, and he has an unusual, private hankering for older women . . .
Diane is a fully realized character in her own right - much more fleshed out than the sad Jocasta from Sophocles' play. Without giving away her story arc (which is completely original), suffice it to say that Diane is one hungry, ambitious woman, but not without her charms.
We all know the basic outline of the Oedipus story. The delight in reading Guterson's version comes from his telling of a completely fascinating rags-to-riches tech-boom story (and our tech giants have been the royalty of our country for the last three decades, have they not?) and how he interweaves the Oedipus story into his.
This book is particularly a must-read for fans of the Pacific Northwest, as Seattle and Portland play large roles and such minor burgs as Wenatchee and Leavenworth get their moments to shine.
All in all, a first-rate effort by Mr. Guterson. Funny, human, and above all, tragic.