Book Report: Murder, mayhem and other delights
How's this for a plot? Mild-mannered accountant Walter Cousins puts his wife Lydia in a sanatorium when she becomes temporarily unbalanced, then takes on a 15-year-old British girl, Diane, as an au pair to take care of his kids.
Then he sleeps with Diane. Then Diane gets pregnant. Then Diane refuses an abortion. Then Diane has a baby.
Then Diane turns out to be a blackmailer and gouges $250 a month from Walter for "child support."
Walter's wife Lydia comes home from the sanatorium. Diane, the little hussy, has no intention of keeping her baby.
She keeps getting the $250 a month and puts the baby up for adoption to a family named King. They name the little boy Edward.
Edward grows up to be an accomplished monster, having his way with women, driving his car 135 miles an hour, taking drugs, even running an older driver off the road and killing him.
Guess what? The elderly driver turns out to be Walter Cousins. Edward later becomes a billionaire internet tycoon, known as "The King of Search."
Meanwhile Edward's birth mother Diane lives on her $250 a month for a time (it's the 1960s), then becomes a call girl and eventually ends up marrying a well-to-do customer, who treats her like the lady she isn't. Diane is passionate about her appearance and early on has facial peels, then surgery from top to bottom.
And guess what? Ed King, the "King of Search," ends up sleeping with his own mother.
Ed King. Get it? Oedipus the King.
"Ed King" (Knopf, $26.95) is by Washington State native David Guterson, author of the very popular "Snow Falling on Cedars."
A PENFaulkner award winner of a few years back. His new novel is a tour de force, cleverly written and a reflection of the years between Ed's birth and the go-go nineties.
The satire is delicious, especially when the characters unconsciously intertwine (no pun intended), as when Ed and his teenage bimbo Tracy attend a rock concert where Warren Cousins' son Barry, hilariously clad in black, plays drums with a band that parodies heavy metal (if that's possible).
Guterson describes the band sounding like monks humming in a silo. The New York Times reviewer found fault with the book because there isn't a likeable character in the whole hefty novel.
Considering the topic, America at the end of the Twentieth Century, I'd say that was about accurate. Nothing likeable.
Several years ago, Geoffrey Wolfe wrote a gripping biography of his father called "The Duke of Deception."
Turns out that his father did not have an Ivy League degree as he claimed, had not done the adventures he regaled his son with.
Turns out that his father was a con artist, a duke of deception.
Now Minneapolis poet and memoirist and former director of The Loft writer's organization and founder of its Mentor Series Jill Breckenridge has written an autobiography that certainly reminds me of Wolf's earlier book.
It's called "Miss Priss and the Con Man" (Nodin Press, $19.95 paper). Miss Priss is Jill Breckenridge and the Con Man is her charming and handsome father, a Pacific Northwesterner who gets hooked up with some unsavory characters who wear black suits and white on white, and later gets involved with shady real estate deals and ends up in the pen.
But he's a likeable fellow who loves his daughter, more than her mother does. Mother is an alcoholic from a nobler family than her husband and quickly sickens of his antics and the marriage that resulted in the birth of the author.
"Murder at Lascaux," by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden ($26.95) is recently out from Terrace Books in Madison, but takes place far away in France's Dordogne region.
Authors Draine and Hinden tell the story of Americans Nora, an art historian and her husband Toby lie their way into the famous caves of Lascaux home of the prehistoric cave drawings.
There's a murder in the cave and guess what? Nora and Toby are suspects.
Their task is to find the real killer and also try to learn something in the cooking school they've signed up for at a chateau in the neighborhood.
It's a tasty dish from two former English professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.