The Frog King
Adam Davies
(Riverhead Books)

Adam Davies' probably-more-than-semi-autobiographical protagonist, a New York assistant editor named Harry Driscoll, is a bit of a wordsmith, and uses words like "eviscerate," "pretermit," and "philoprogeneration" on a regular basis. He (and Davies) use the words to be somewhat cute, of course, but they also serve as a sort of metaphorical wall, for Harry is terrified of commitment. He can't commit to his job, he can't commit to his friends, and he can't commit to the love of his life, Evie. His wacky wordplay acts as a shield between him and commitment. It's fitting that he knows literally scads of crazy words, and yet can't even bring himself to mention the dreaded L-word.

Step #7 of a list he has tacked to his desk called "SEVEN STEPS TO PRESERVING HARRY'S BACHELORHOOD" reads: "no using the word "love" in any circumstances. When Evie tells him she loves him. he explains:

"I love you is the cliched expression of the moronically unimaginative. It's for greeting cards for people who don't have the originality to say what they really mean. It's the Henry Fordization of emotion."

Witty? Very. Mean? definitely, and so it comes as no surprise when Harry inevitably loses Evie and falls into drunken chaos. It sounds like it would be hard to feel sorry for this sap, but amazingly, it's not. His wit is so caustic that no matter how big a hole he digs for himself, it never stops being great fun to hear him speak. Davies's dialogue style is hyper-clever; not at all realistic, bordering on corny, but he is so good at it that we have no choice but to go along with it. We also know that deep down Harry is a decent guy who loves Evie with all his heart. Davies makes it very clear that Harry's word mastery is a condition, not a choice; an ailment that keeps him from saying the words that will bring him true happiness.

Much darker than High Fidelity, to which it will be compared, King ends with redemption, but without reward. Davies is keenly aware that the hardest lessons in life usually have to be learned the hard way. He doesn't pull any punches in making things worse and worse for Harry before they can get better. That's probably another reason why we like the guy; we've all been through the same thing.