The King is Dead

A colleague recently asked me if I like to know the ending of a book before I get to it, and I responded with a definite “no!” Later, driving home and listening to the audiobook Ed King by David Guterson (author of Snow Falling on Cedars), I realized that revealing the ending at the beginning can be a deliberate device.

In Ed King, the ending is not specifically spelled out, but the realization early on that this is a modern retelling of an ancient Greek tragedy (see the title, hint, hint) creates the same effect. The knowledge of what is to come, and wondering just how Guterson is going to get his characters there, make this a page turner (or a disc changer, as it were).

It’s the summer of 1962, and Walter Cousins is an actuary who should be better able to assess the risks of philandering. Diane Burroughs is the teenage au pair caring for Walter’s two small children while his wife convalesces following a mental breakdown. An unplanned pregnancy sets Walter and Diane on a path to destiny –in the shape of their son, a baby boy adopted by the King family and named Ed.

Ed King’s life is a virtual tour of pop culture; from his early foray into video games to his eventual reign as “The King of Search,” Ed manages to hit on every high tech trend of the 1970’s on. Readers even get a glimpse of what the future may hold as Ed, a Steve Jobs-like character, works to perfect an Artificial Intelligence to rival the best human interaction. While most of the characters are flawed, self-absorbed, and immoral, they are also vividly drawn with a dark humor. Not for the squeamish, Ed’s date with destiny drives the novel, at least for me.

For the more romantically minded, One Day by David Nicholls offers a similar snapshot of pop culture of the 1980’s and1990’s while telling the love story of two friends, Dexter and Emma, visiting the two each year on the same day, July 15. Dexter and Emma also have their flaws, but their sins are less base, the humor less dark.

One Day
is available as an eBook from OC Public Libraries’ digital catalog, and both of these titles are available from OC Public Libraries in print and audio; on the audiobooks, Arthur Morey does a mostly fine job with Ed King,although his British accent leaves something to be desired, but Anna Bentinck’s narration of One Day is masterful,and her shifts between Emma’s Northern accent and Dexter’s posh voice are effortless.

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