A mediocre book leaves you cold. But an almost-great book--that's enough to make you gnash your teeth. In his debut novel, The Frog King
, Adam Davies maddeningly fails to recognize and develop the terrific material he has at hand. Harry Driscoll, raised in privilege and Ivy League-educated, is a peon at a prestigious New York publishing house--in fact, the house is called Prestige--and he hates it: hates the menial labor, hates the intellectual pretension, hates the political jockeying necessary to advancement. Driscoll is terrific on the disappointment peculiar to the overeducated and underemployed: "All those years of schooling (Yes I speak Old English!) and resumé building. (Yes I interned on Capitol Hill!) didn't pertain at all to the life that was waiting for me." The insider peek at New York publishing is terrific, too, if scant: "There's a joke at Prestige that The New Yorker
will publish any story that ends with the word 'home.'" Davies devotes most of his energy, however, to Harry's somewhat mystifying relationship with his girlfriend Evie. He loves her madly, but he's sleeping around. When he loses her, he continues to lie to her even as he tries to win her back. Davies may have some kind of emotional profile in mind for Harry, but he fails to put it across to the reader. Fortunately, the well-observed social comedy and nicely exaggerated workplace farce more than make up for the rest of the novel's shortcomings. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Apparently the only reason to endure the low wages and lower prestige of an entry-level publishing job is that someday you can write a book about it. The latest entry in this subgenre is an intelligent and amusing but exasperating debut featuring a very self-centered leading man. Harry Driscoll works for peasant's wages as an editorial assistant at Prestige Publishing, a prominent New York City house. At the notoriously stuffy Prestige, he behaves like a college freshman showing up late, spiking his coffee, losing manuscripts and trying to prove that he's smarter than his co-workers. His favorite game is a revealing one: in a daily vocabulary contest with his one friend at Prestige, he resorts to making up words. Harry has lucked into a relationship with Evie Goddard, a pretty fellow editorial assistant who talks like an "overeducated auctioneer on speed," but he can't stop ogling other women long enough to appreciate her. He begins an affair with a powerful editor from another publishing house, but in typical loudmouth fashion, he manages to sabotage himself once again. Evie eventually tires of his behavior (readers may wonder what takes her so long), leaving him a few pages toward the novel's end to realize the error of his ways and try to win her back. Davies, who worked for Random House, makes some juicy observations about the backbiting publishing industry, but there's hardly any room for them, since Harry doesn't give much space on the page to anything but himself.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.