The subtitle of Adam Davies's debut novel, THE FROG KING: A Love
Story, is a bit misleading. Any reader expecting sweet and romantic
will be disappointed. While the story seems to center on the
relationship of a young couple, one half of that couple is
incapable of expressing love. Much as she tries, the young lover
cannot turn her frog into a prince. In actuality, the story is
about a young man who realizes he must find the prince in himself
or remain a lonely frog forever.
The eponymous Frog King is Harry Driscoll, a lowly editor at a New
York City publishing house. Harry is troubled, lazy, arrogant and
he drinks too much. Yet, he is, in his own perverse way, charming.
Harry's girlfriend is Evie Goddard, also an editor. Their
relationship is at times sweet, often sad and always quirky. The
problem is, not only is Harry unable to remain faithful (a fact of
which Evie is painfully aware), he can't even say the word love,
much less maturely demonstrate the emotion. Still, Evie and Harry
cling to each other until Harry's destructive behavior makes it
impossible for Evie to continue to be with him. With the loss of
Evie, Harry begins a frightening descent into the physical and
emotional place known as "rock bottom."
It is here that a potential rescuer emerges from the story; Birdie,
a young homeless girl who has been a shadow figure in Harry's life.
Birdie represents Harry's youth, his innocence, and his sense of
wonder, all of which he has recently lost or misspent. Birdie
represents Harry's optimism before he became a self-hating cynic.
She brings out the goodness in Harry that even Evie was unable to
uncover. But both Harry and Birdie have a long journey to normalcy
ahead of them. Davies seems to want to say that this duo will live
happily ever after, Harry having saved Birdie from the streets and
Birdie having saved Harry from himself. But after over 300 pages of
Harry's self-destruction, it is hard to believe. Surely Harry and
Birdie have a few nights left in the gutter before they pull
themselves together and head off to the New England prep school
that awaits them.
Davies's prose is fast paced and clever, and his dialogue is
inventive. Yet, what is funny in the beginning of the novel may
become tiresome and annoying to some by the end. Just as Harry
cannot get in touch with his feelings or come to terms with the
responsibilities of adulthood, the reader can never really get
close to the characters. The whip-smart language is a barrier and
renders the book a bit like Harry himself: the content deeply
buried beneath the style. THE FROG KING is memorable for its weird
hipster tone, but shouldn't Harry be the most memorable aspect? He
is not. Davies falls victim to language just as his characters do:
He says a lot but reveals little.
Throughout the novel Evie is the most interesting and real
character. I would gladly read a novel that centered on Evie.
However, Birdie, as a supporting character really steals the show.
She is strange, wise and mysterious. She is Harry's perfect foil.
Harry is one of the most unlikable protagonists around. With all
that said, THE FROG KING is not a bad book. In fact, it is an
original and promising debut. When Davies learns to better channel
his love of language and talent for sarcasm, his characters will
really come alive.
Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on January 22, 2011
The Frog King: A Love Story