“The Frog King”
by Garth Greenwell
from the November 26, 2018 issue of The New Yorker

Last year, The New Yorker published Garth Greenwell’s “An Evening Out,” which he called a companion to his debut novel, What Belongs to You. That 2016 novel is narrated by an American English teacher living in Bulgaria. “An Evening Out” concerns itself with this narrator’s encounter with R., his Portuguese boyfriend. Greenwell returns to them each again in “The Frog King,” the events of which, Greenwell says in his interview, take place before the third section of What Belongs to You.

I know a lot of people really loved What Belongs to You, which I still haven’t read. More and more it looks like that novel was just the tip of the iceberg, the start of a great literary project. In the interview, Greenwell says how much he enjoys books that stand alone but that also form part of the writer’s world. I also love it when an author’s work circles itself, adding nuance and detail to the lives they’re exploring. Maybe Greenwell won’t carry these characters beyond the next book, but in the meantime I feel the need to catch up and follow along.

Unfortunately, “An Evening Out” was not well received by commenters here — at least, at first. While most found the story flowed nicely, they didn’t really find it interesting. That changed as more readers came to the story’s defense. I always appreciate that. I know it can be difficult to come to a place where everyone seems to hate a story and then give a counter view. It’s important, though. I do try to let people express their minds, even if they do so in a way that seems off-putting. The best way to deal with that is to have confidence in your comment, put it out there, and then let it go.

With that, please feel very welcome to share your thoughts on “The Frog King.”

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By |2018-11-19T13:31:39-04:00November 19th, 2018|Categories: Garth Greenwell, New Yorker Fiction|Tags: |5 Comments


  1. William November 22, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    At first I felt uncomfortable with the explicitness of this story. It seemed to be all physical. After thinking for a while, I realized that the opposite is true. Now I find that I like it. And I think it is well written. The narrator licks and kisses R’s body all over. But both of their cocks go limp during the process. Translation — it is not just, or even primarily, about sex. It is about loving. About converting furtive kisses in doorways and a fear of declaring themselves to be lovers into an acknowledgement — between them — that that is what they are. The burning of the frog prince is an image that symbolizes and reinforces this transition. And what does a frog prince bring to mind? The fairy tale of the princess who kisses a frog; turning him into a prince. The narrator’s loving kisses turn R into a prince — not just an object of desire, but a whole person. Greenwell does a skillful inversion to emphasize this meaning — he puts the climactic (non-climactic) scene that takes place when they are back in Sofia before the scene of the burning in Bologna. So when the burning of the frog prince takes place, we can see more clearly what it means in symbolic and emotional terms.

  2. Larry Bone November 23, 2018 at 2:51 pm

    I think William expertly unlocks and explains this story and what it is about just from the details in how it progresses. It seems not quite the usual New Yorker story though there is way more diversity than ever before. The author explains in a web sidebar story that he was writting about happiness and that it was a melancholy task. This story is kind of a generic relationship story where the explicitness could be slightly transposed into a different genderal key. What appears is that whatever happiness is attained is all very fleeting for either person and so fragile in the first stages and that this vacation interlude will be only the remembered high point if afterwards the relationship is never continued. This kind of situation can be seen as occurring in a straight relationship. A girl and a guy become smitten with each other in India but she is high caste and he is low caste. Her family (society) will not tolerate the relationship so they have to flee to a distant anonymous city like the characters in this story having to leave Bulgaria for Italy. Whether the relationship ends because the lovers have to return to their single lives or tragicly, that society will not permit it, ironically the happiness of the best moments will not persist. This story also inversely suggests the irony of a relationship in which the initial relationship continues into a very long one but the best initial happy moments never recur because through overfamiliarity or the physical desirability decline.

  3. William November 23, 2018 at 11:19 pm

    Larry —

    Once again I have to thank you for your gracious comment. Also, once again I have to express my appreciation for your expanding the theme that I proposed into a broader notion: ” What appears is that whatever happiness is attained is all very fleeting for either person and so fragile in the first stages and that this vacation interlude will be only the remembered high point if afterwards the relationship is never continued.” Very nuanced.

  4. David November 24, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    “I can’t believe I’m here, he said, it’s like a movie, I’m in Venice with my American boyfriend.”
    “We watched a movie sitting side by side on the couch, I don’t remember what it was, something lighthearted, romantic, though he hardly laughed.”
    This story read like it was designed to be a segment of the film Love, Actually, which is to say it was pleasant, almost a bit saccharine at times, but nothing very special. It’s not quite a story of falling in love, as the two characters have been a couple for some time when the story starts, but it is about the deepening of their feelings, or more precisely the coming to be aware of the deepening of their feelings for each other. It was ok, but not something destined to be a holiday classic.
    As a writer, Greenwell is fine, but, like his subject matter, rather unremarkable. I hate how he embraces the comma splice as some sort of attempt at style, but that’s my only real complaint. Having read two of his stories – both ones published by The New Yorker – I would put him in the category of writers whose work I would not seek out, but also would not dread reading either.

  5. Ken Windrum November 25, 2018 at 4:53 pm

    I would agree with David up until the long long paragraph in the penultimate section describing their erotic and romantic activity. That passage took the story to another realm of quality. Up until then, I was sort of thinking what I’ve thought a lot about New Yorker fiction–that it is reportage and often pleasant enough but inconsequential. At this late point, though, the story became deeper and more moving in depicting true love and connection. On the other hand, I KNEW we were going to return to the burning frog prince and at that point the story rejoined the realm of the pleasant and touristic–an erudite and enjoyable but forgettable piece.

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