It has often been said that the line between genius and insanity is a fine one, and upon hearing that an author has decided to put his own spin on a pillar of Western literature, you would be forgiven for wondering on which side of the line he falls. After all, it takes a lot of nerve and perhaps a special brand of madness to take on the classics, and it doesn’t get more classic than the ancient Greek tragedies . . . especially when the play in question happens to be Sophocles’ magnum opus Oedipus the King. Yet with his latest novel, Ed King, author David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars) does what many might consider the unthinkable: brings Oedipus into the modern age.
The story of Oedipus is so salacious and scandalous that one would be hard-pressed to forget it, but for those who need to brush up on their Athenian tragedies, here’s a simple one-sentence summary: Oedipus is the son of a king who is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. There’s a lot more to the story than that, but it would be a shame to ruin all the twists and turns that Oedipus/Ed—who in Guterson’s version becomes a celebrity billionaire through the power of the Internet—faces on his journey. Even for those who are well versed in Sophocles, Ed King is filled with plenty of surprises and sly homage to the original (as well as a few other Greek myths), and half the fun here is reveling in the sheer cheekiness of the narrative.
Ed King is not a new story, yet Guterson has managed to infuse this novel with feelings of freshness, relevance and even believability that are sure to delight 21st-century readers. A special pleasure will be experienced by those who can appreciate how the old elements have been modernized. Oedipus may not have been Guterson’s to begin with, but by the end, readers will have no doubts that Ed King is a creation entirely his own.