Sometimes a fictional character is so despicable that the reader learns to like him, even revere him. Case in point: Harry Driscoll, the narrator and central character in Adam Davies’ “The Frog King.” He’s vain, he’s sarcastic and most of all, he never feels an ounce of guilt over anything. Oh, and did I mention that he cheats on his girlfriend?

Paul Wong

Yes, Harry Driscoll is a jerk – but that’s where all the fun is. Davies has crafted an endearing buffoon out of Driscoll, a low-level editorial assistant at Prestige Publishing in New York City. In the hilarious, often laugh-out-loud humor of the first few chapters, we discover Driscoll’s overwhelmingly dreary perception of his bachelorhood. He hates his roommate, Darrell, who makes soundbytes for sitcoms. He pokes fun of the socialites that populate book-releasing parties. He even finds fault in girls whose names end with the letter “E,” even though he eventually dates one, Evie.

Along the way we learn of Harry’s upper-crust upbringing, his perpetual lateness and his penchant for self-destructive behavior. But this aside, the novel focuses on his relationship with Evie. In doing so, the reader is treated with some delightfully witty repartee between the pair, fully utilizing their expanded vocabulary as a result of them both being editors. It’s clear that they love each other, but Harry won’t – and doesn’t know how to – express his feelings. Evie’s friend Madeleine gives him the titular name because of his slimy behavior and her firm belief that, no matter what Evie does, Harry can never turn into a prince.

Davies does, however, drop hints that Harry isn’t completely amoral and could become a prince, if only he’d get over himself. His friendship with Birdie, a homeless teenager, is refreshing because she can see right through Harry’s phoniness. He, in turn, finds her amusing and takes an interest in protecting her from the rough streets. One might consider Harry’s actions out of character – but this subplot only strengthens the idea that Harry is simply frighteningly insecure, rather than villainous.

“The Frog King” isn’t a deep novel by any stretch of the imagination – but it doesn’t try to be. Davies wisely concentrates on the surface level: The silly word games played among the Prestige employees, the orange-colored walls of Harry’s apartment, Harry and Evie’s hysterical nicknames for each other during foreplay. The presence of these little touches adds up to an engagingly cockeyed perspective of being young and single in New York. Not even the much- praised “Sex & the City” approaches the originality and adventurousness of Davies’ novel. By comparison, Harry makes party girl Samantha Jones seem tame.

In going out on a limb, in taking the chances that Davies does, he occasionally pushes the Harry character too far. When Evie discovers Harry’s affair and leaves him, his efforts to win her back seem too halfhearted. One would hope that Harry could at least articulate the words, “I’m sorry.” But alas, he is too self-centered to admit wrongdoing to anyone but himself. What the reader is left with is a sense that Harry isn’t worth rooting for.

Regardless of one’s interpretation of Harry, he still remains an intriguing character. His erratic behavior, channeled through Davies’ crisp language, makes “The Frog King” an enjoyable read. Unless, of course, you believe that even the slimiest of amphibians don’t have some redeemable qualities.

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