Robert Coover: “The Frog Prince” from TNY 1/27/13

TNY Art by Melinda Beck

TNY Art by Melinda Beck

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.

At first I thought: This is the kind of story that couldn’t get published in the East Podunk Online Quarterly Frogblog if it didn’t have Coover’s name on it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, you understand; I think restating the obvious in an interesting, highly entertaining way is underrated. The obvious in this case is that love, sexual obsession, is an addictive drug, and, like any addictive drug, will lead you to self-destruct as you pursue it. Anyone heretofore unaware of this hasn’t been paying attention to his or her own behavior (or perhaps to his or her own genitals).

But then I considered the twist:

…[B]ut she understood now, as she should have understood then, that he had been not an enchanted prince turned into a frog but a frog turned into a prince, and all he’d wanted was to be a frog again.

Initially, the woman in the story is the addict, willing to put up with all the disadvantages of her drug of choice. Depending on your addiction, you know what those are: financial cost, physical risk, personal degradation to degrees previously considered unthinkable. This single sentence recasts the relationship, the narrative itself, in a somewhat different mold: the frog in captivity, a golden cage. This is the story he will tell his frog buddies back in the pond, the account of his exile, escape, return. This becomes his story; the woman is reduced to an observer in the narrative, or perhaps, if we wish to give her more politically correct power, a captor.

Every relationship requires the parties meet somewhere outside themselves. Some relationships involve only small mutual corrections to allow for enough intersection to satisfy; others, less healthy ones perhaps, force one partner to leap into a new universe, and depend on the relationship to make up for what is left behind. Sometimes a frog just wants to be a frog. And, by the way, there’s no such thing as an enchanted prince, but if you’re lucky, you can find that out before you destroy your life trying to make one out of the next frog you meet.

In the end, it’s still a story no one would publish without Coover’s name attached to it. Me, I’m a Coover fan; I cut him a lot of slack, and I’m willing to work for his stories.

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