Robert Coover: “The Frog Prince”

Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Robert Coover’s “The Frog Prince” was originally published in the January 27, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.

Click for a larger image.

Click for a larger image.

Trevor:

I read this piece on Sunday night. It’s only three columns long, and it goes down easily. I liked it very much. And yet after a few days sitting on it, rereading it, I have almost nothing to say. Betsy’s post was in my inbox Monday morning, and I didn’t open it until I’d written the brief thoughts below. Betsy, I think that this is the first time we’ve had so little to say :-) .

“The Frog Prince” is, just like the title leads us to believe, a fairy tale. Only this being Coover it’s slanted — quite a bit. Yes, there’s a frog prince, and the story begins with a kind of “they lived happily”:

At first, it was great. Sure. It always is. She cuddled the frog, wishing for more, and — presto! A handsome prince who doted on her. It meant the end of her marriage, of course, but her ex was something of a toad himself, who had a nasty habit of talking with his mouth full and a tongue good for nothing but licking stamps.

It’s a fun slant, setting the story up as a rather mundane, ordinary thing that sometimes happens in a discontented marriage. The sly innuendo at the end sets the tone.

To be honest, and I do not mean this as a slight, that slant and tone are pretty much what this story has to offer. We get an account of the affair. The frog that turned into a prince was, literally, a drug for the woman. The frog himself is not so keen on the situation, and the eventual end plays out as something that was inevitable and, hey, it was good while it lasted. Now on to the “ever after.”

Betsy:

“The Frog Prince,” by Robert Coover, is a clever confection, an ecstatic adventure, a bawdy fairy tale with a nod to Chaucer, and a short short story. A riff on a wife’s affair, “The Frog Prince” has, like all fairy tales, its scare factor. I thought it was snappy and wise at the same time — I loved it. Coover’s tale is a five out of four, as is the accompanying illustration.

The illustration is done in cut-out black and white silhouette, and its tantalizing use of a green line is terrific. But I pause. Any silhouette-style illustration now has to be an echo of Kara Walker’s shocking, fabulous representations of the sexual violence and generalized violence of slave life. Her cut-outs mimic the way we sweeten our national memory of the horrific.

Coover’s confection, of course, is a similarly sweetened tale of marital violence.

There is a unique aura of the holy to Kara Walker’s work: her imagination is so original that to appropriate her style seems risky. Is it use or abuse? That her work would be imitated is inevitable. At this point, though, Walker’s art is so well-known, so iconic, that using her style could be rightly called homage. Descendants of slavery might disagree. To me, the violence in Walker’s slave depictions is echoed by the emotional violence that Coover implies is present in many a marriage. But descendants of American slavery might disagree.

7 thoughts on “Robert Coover: “The Frog Prince””

  1. Trevor says:

    The post above has been updated to include our thoughts.

  2. Gina Oliveira says:

    It would be possible to read anything at all as a metaphor or allegory for any situation in your or my life. And of course to write about it at length and use up all your rounded-out vocabulary. I believe this story to be such, that’s what I got at the end, but no more.

  3. Ken says:

    I did not see this as a story of marital violence or anything beyond a thin conceit like much of Coover’s shorter work. His last story, though, in the New Yorker was quite good and his novels are amazing–particularly John’s Wife and The Public Burning. I think with this, and a few others of late, he’s coasting on his rep.

  4. Betsy says:

    I disagree, Ken! I think the very short story is a difficult assignment, one which he fulfilled here. It’s an entertainment. As for marital violence – couples drift toward and away from each other. In this particular story, the woman has become drunk and distracted by the presence of another. That’s a violent event in a marriage or a relationship. Violence need not be physical.

    As for thin, I don’t think so! Not only is Coover affectionately describing a woman’s desires, he’s also describing the woman’s positive hunger for words, words and more words – the very province of the tongue. I adore it that he pays attention and respect to the differences that women embody. Also, the story allows for the affair to be entirely an affair of the mind, something to which women are vulnerable. But an affair of the mind can have a violent effect on a relationship. Or, it can merely ‘threaten’ to wreck a relationship.

    I remember hearing about the mother of a friend of mine, at her peak in the sixties, who told her daughter she loved to go to cocktail parties, loved to get dressed up, loved to be paid attention, loved to flirt. Coover’s a bit of that age. There’s something totally familiar and totally reckless about my friend’s mother, and there’s something of the frog prince in the people she flirted with.

    But I also admired Coover’s “The Colonel’s Daughter” – much longer, much more serious, much more puzzling, and thought provoking. Two different things, two different purposes. I admire both.

  5. Ken says:

    Undeniably well argued, Betsy. I can’t wait to hear you discuss the Antrim story which I found extremely rich and satisfying.

  6. Trevor says:

    I must apologize to everyone and Betsy: she has had her piece on Antrim for some time. I have yet to post it. We bought a house on Friday, so my head has been elsewhere :-).

  7. Betsy says:

    Hi Trevor – family first! Congratulations on the new house!

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