Cave dweller makes good.
Author Adam Davies'94 finds inspiration in GambierHarry Driscoll, protagonist of The Frog King, is an underpaid New York City publishing-house drone. Dead broke and starving, Driscoll buys a dozen eggs on a Saturday night and encourages yuppie revelers wandering out of bars to pay him a dollar to smash one on his own head. For two dollars, the customer gets to do the egging.
Driscoll's creator, Adam Davies '94, a clean and seemingly self-respecting fellow, smiles ruefully at this completely autobiographical tidbit from his first novel. "They always paid the extra dollar to do it themselves," he says. "So for an eighty-nine-cent investment, I'd take home twenty-four dollars. A nice profit margin, but that was pretty humiliating work."
It seems unlikely that Davies will be buying eggs for anything besides breakfast any time soon. Riverhead Books released 40,000 paperback copies of The Frog King and is heavily promoting the book. A full-page advertisement devoted to Davies and The Frog King ran in a September issue of the New Yorker magazine, and reviews have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly, and Us. Davies has already received a nice advance on his next book.
Having worked as an editor--one far more successful at his job than Harry Driscoll--Davies has attended countless book parties for well-known authors. Recently, he got to attend his own. It was a lot of fun, except for certain celebrities in attendance. "Man, Barbara Walters was icy!" he says. "She made me feel like a complete idiot at my own party."
Walters is lucky Davies didn't flash back to his younger days as a so-called "extreme fighter." The bare-knuckled boxing contests captured in the movie Fight Club have scant rules other than a few incidentals like no kicks to the knees or groin of an opponent. Davies says he was "pretty good," but there is little to suggest his history in the ring; there's no sign his nose has ever been broken, and his speech is quick and clear. "I know it sounds terrible, but I could absorb an enormous amount of punishment to the chest and abdomen for four or five rounds, then come out and start hurting my opponent once he was tired," he says.
Davies's time in the ring was good preparation for his life as a writer, because his first book did not come easily. "It's actually the first story I ever tried to write," he says.
He "became obsessed with the story" during his time at Syracuse University, where he studied with author George Saunders and earned a master of fine arts degree in creative writing." But he could not find the proper way to tell it.
Ultimately, Davies wrote the story of Harry Driscoll's doomed love affair as a fifteen-hundred page-novel, which he cut to three hundred pages. Before that, the saga had been a short story, then a one-act play, a second one-act play, a full-length play, and a failed novel.
Davies remembers how friends who knew that the subject of the book was largely his own doomed love affair figured writing about it was therapeutic.
"They'd all say, 'It must be a great purgative.' But I was spending every single day, countless hours, going over and over and reliving this painful incident," he says. "Oliver Sacks, the neurologist and writer, talks about patients with 'stoppage.' That's a pathological inability to move forward. I've definitely got a problem with stoppage," Davies admits with a hint of perverse pleasure.
Although most of the events in the book are fabricated, there is much of Harry Driscoll in his author. "There was real shame in writing this story," Davies says with a laugh. "The narrator is deeply, deeply flawed."
In preparing The Frog King for publication, editors and his agent made suggestions for changes. Davies accepted some of their ideas but rejected others as not true to his story. Luckily, Davies had Duran Duran--yes, the cheesy 1980s pop group--as a touchstone to guide him through the process.
"When I was a little kid, I loved Duran Duran," he explains. "So one day, riding on the school bus with my older brother, I wrote 'Duran Duran' with my finger on the frosty bus window. My big brother looks over, gets this disgusted look on his face, and says, 'Duran Duran sucks!' And I got embarrassed and wiped the window clean. It's a silly thing, but that was a real betrayal of self. In writing the book, for better or worse, I made sure I always stayed true to my inner Duran Duran."
With his Duran Duran muse beside him, Davies spent parts of two summers after graduation writing in Gambier. It was a fitting place for him to work. "My whole life I've always hated everything and everywhere I've been, but Kenyon is a place with good memories," he says. "I was able to pound out two hundred pages in five weeks during the summer of 2001."
He gives thanks for his productivity to Professor of English William Klein, who allowed him to housesit, and to Fred Linger, manager of business services, who gave him 5:00 a.m. access to a writing space in Ascension Hall, where he finished his final draft of The Frog King.
As a student at Kenyon, Davies developed his literary sensibility and established the groundwork for his career. "Bill Klein, Ron Sharp, and Deborah Laycock taught me how to read independently," he says. "High school teaches an unfortunate sense of reverence about literature, a mental daintiness that's inimical to the process of writing. I got over that at Kenyon."
But Davies claims to have made little impact on campus life during his college career. "I was a cave dweller," he says.
Rachel Mohr Handel '94, a friend (and clearly a fan) disputes Davies's assessment of his Kenyon career. "Adam is amazingly charismatic, which makes it difficult for him to hide. He did put a great deal of his energies into the things most important to him--his writing, his friends, his studies--which made him a bit more elusive than the average Kenyon student, but he was always open, comfortable, hilarious, and ingenious with his friends."
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