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Unlikable narrator has strange appeal in 'Frog King'

| Sunday, Oct. 6, 2002

There are so many reasons to dislike — yea, loathe — Harry Driscoll, the narrator of Adam Davies' first novel, "The Frog King."

He is cheating on his adoring girlfriend, whom he also habitually lies to and humiliates by drunkenly flirting with other women while out with her. He is sleeping with an older woman to further his publishing career — a career he is meanwhile sabotaging in spectacular fashion. He views his privileged, relatively good upbringing as little more than fodder for self-pity and Holden Caulfield-like angst.

In short, he's a jerk.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Harry is one of the more appealing literary narrators to surface lately. Despite his impressive catalog of dastardly deeds, Harry's diatribe against his world is delivered with such irrepressible panache that, far from denouncing him when he bemoans his self-inflicted fate, the reader accepts his half-baked rationales and actually sympathizes with him.

After all, who can resist a guy who unleashes the full force of his wordy wrath against such a worthy subject as "the latest ponytailed/goateed/ski-cap-wearing/body-pierced/dressed-all-in-black/vampirically pale/Buddhistically tattooed/flagitiously alcoholic/piously macrobiotic/contemptuously unfashionable-fashionable author du jour who has just published his memoir about his delinquent youth of incest and driftery"?

This sympathy is aided by Harry's moments of lucidity, in which he realizes just what a mess he is (such observations running somewhere along the lines of "The next day, in the scarifying light of morning, I confront the awful, stupid truth of my life"); as well as his youthful, generally abortive movements toward the life he dimly senses he should be living.

It is to Davies' credit that, by the time Harry finally does begin to do right, his life fails to magically align with his desires.

Writing with the authority of his (and one hopes not-too-similar) experiences in the city, Davies hits few wrong notes in this depiction of a sardonic, struggling editorial assistant attempting to advance in the often-suffocating world of New York publishing.

Although his penchant for verbal pyrotechnics occasionally gets in the way of his storytelling, Davies has crafted a clever tale that delivers moments of simple beauty.

"The Frog King."


  • By Adam Davies.

  • Riverhead, 324 pages, $13 paperback.

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