Friday, March 19, 2010

The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

Genre: Fiction, mixed with fantasy
Publisher, Year: Doubleday, 2008
Other Works: Debut novel
Flags: Moderate language, adult themes, explicit references
Rating: A-, or Good w/ Minor Problems
Challenge: Countdown, Library
Premise: A young, handsome man drives off a cliff in a drug-induced hysteria. While in the hospital recovering from major burn wounds, he meets an charismatic and slightly off-kilter woman who claims she was his lover in another life.

I’m really at a loss as to what to say about this book. It’s vastly different from any other book I’ve read before. I picked it up on the recommendation of Ann of Books on the Nightstand, whose opinion I like to take when I’m in the mood for something different or edgy. This books satisfied both criteria.

The Gargoyle is narrated by a man who careens off the side of a cliff and finds himself in the middle of a horrendous car fire, which destroys much of his body. As he recovers, a mysterious young woman begins visiting him and telling him stories about 14th century Germany. The only catch is, she believes he is a character from her story, that they met and fell in love in a medieval monastery, and she’s been waiting for him to come back for seven hundred years. +/-

There is a stark contrast that comes to the forefront during the book, and I’m still contemplating its significance. Before the accident, the narrator was a pornographer, so his livelihood depended upon his sexuality. Not only as a profession, we learn, but for sport as well; meaning, his entire life revolved around sex—like someone with an all-consuming hobby, such as an unhealthy obsession with Star Wars or hobbits. Sex was his hobby, his profession, what he spent all his work and free time doing. However, after the accident, he is no longer capable of those things. Not only is his physical appearance considerably altered, but he has also suffered damage to essential organs for such a profession. Thus, his entire world has been taken away from him. Part of his discovery is thus tied up in how he is changed in the aftermath of the fire--how he is reborn. He has to find new things to live for, and it’s not an easy task. He feels the burning of intense desire without the physical ability to act on that feeling. In his struggle, he also feels a little seed of love take root in his heart.

The mysterious woman, Marianne Engel, becomes his self-appointed teacher. She reveals to him, in parts, a history he can’t remember. He finds out that his latest accident is not the first time he’s been burned, that his heart is ready to remember things he’s felt in past years, a past life. She teaches him through short parable-type stories: a girl in Japan, a Viking in Iceland, an Italian couple, and a husband lost at sea. Each of these stories are wildly creative and tragic, too. Marianne also has a close relationship with religion and God. She believes she has a calling from God to carve gargoyles--to release ugly monster from stone and give them a heart from her own chest. She takes it upon herself to rehabilitate the narrator from the prison he’s created of his heart. Marianne reads to him from Dante’s Inferno, which takes on special significance. The narrator believes his burns present a punishment for his way of life, but it seems also to take on the form of a type of cleansing, a healing power to the pain he ran away from.

I found the writing style to be rather scattered, and it was a slow read for me, not because it didn’t hold my interest, but because of the density of the plot and helter-skelter timeline. For me, it was a necessity to read the book in chunks, so I could toss each episode around in my brain and digest it fully before moving on. By the end, I couldn’t go back and pick out certain parts that made more sense because of the final revelations, but rather, it was like all the events felt like memories, and they converged to create an entirely unique experience. That’s not something you find often, and what was really brilliant about it was that it wasn’t hard. The text was nice and smoothly pressed. It rolled right off the tongue (in my mind’s inner “reading voice”).

Although it’s not one I would have ever picked up on my own, I really liked this book. And it can creep up on you the way some books do--a few chapters in, I wasn’t blown away. But somehow I found myself very involved without realizing it. It’s not for the faint of heart, I will say that. Our nameless narrator had a difficult and painful childhood. He’s also an ex-porn star and is hopped up on drugs when he takes that fateful tumble--not to mention the excruciating descriptions of his accident, injuries, and recovery. And the subject matter can be sometimes disturbing and graphic. Normally some of these things would have turned me off the book, but this time was different, and I can’t exactly put my finger on why. I don’t think this book is for everyone, but I’m glad it was for me.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

I loved the parts of this book set in the past and I really liked the parts where Marianne first begins visiting the narrator. But I got so tired of hearing about how he had lost his manhood, so to speak. I just wanted to shout--I get it already! And when she suddenly started turning out gargoyles like crazy just so that she could die after waiting all of that time for him? I just found that odd.