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Ed King (Vintage Contemporaries)
by David Guterson

Published: 2012-07-24
Paperback : 320 pages
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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. ...

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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 gets pregnant and leaves their baby on a doorstep, it sets 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 way to determine.

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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Discussion Questions

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?

--From the publisher

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Book review from 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.

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Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "Nice twist on Oedipus"by suebooksri (see profile) 05/21/12

This book was interesting and predictable, but darkly humorous. Even though you knew where it was going, you wanted to see it through.

  "Ed King"by heathergaugler (see profile) 01/22/12

It was hard to read because of some of the content, but it ropes you in to keep reading.

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