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The Gargoyle: A Book Review
Andrew Davidson's Gargoyle: His First Novel
A Unique Storyline
The Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson, is one of the best-written, most compelling novels I’ve ever read. Though it is a love-story of the most bizarre kind, its beauty lies more in the fantastical and redemptive nature of the tale.
The main character, a cocaine sniffing, vodka drinking, intellectually curious porn king, whose name we never learn, narrates his own story, and it is his honest, yet cynical, sometimes condescending, and often sarcastic voice that keeps the reader moving forward through the 465 page odyssey. He makes no bones about his former decadent life style, but, because of Davidson’s opening sentence, “Accidents ambush the unsuspecting, often violently, just like love,” the reader immediately suspects that there is more to “Mr. Porn Star” than even he knows. His surprising willingness to reveal his innermost thoughts and feelings hooks the reader.
The story’s major plot centers around “Porn Star’s” recovery from third degree burns over most of his body and numerous other injuries caused by a one-car, drunk driving accident. His first-person description in the opening pages of both the accident and his becoming a human barbeque is so graphic, one guiltily prays that he is dead and is telling the story from the afterlife--- especially after “Porn Star” compares his pre-accident beauty and prowess to his now gargoyle-like disfigurement, which includes, among his several missing body parts, the amputation of what was left of his seared penis. Hence, the narrator is the story’s gargoyle--- but only metaphorically.
The true gargoyles are those being carved by the immensely talented, but probably bipolar (or possibly schizophrenic), Marianne Engel (He calls her full name each time he mentions her), a beautiful woman who appears at his bedside one day, then returns over and over to keep him company, to distract him from his elaborate plan to commit suicide, and to lead him to God
Yes, The Gargoyle is as much a spiritual journey for the main character as it is a religious experience for the reader. Though readers know immediately that Marianne Engel’s eccentricity is the result of more than her artistic genius, the innocence and assurance with which she weaves her tales of century-old love lost and found again is just whimsical enough to make us want to believe that her story of having loved “Porn Star” in at least one previous life is absolutely true, that she is not a figment of his morphine and pain induced imagination.
The end of the story is so heartbreaking and beautiful I could hardly bear to close the book for the final time. I walked around feeling like I should still be with the characters for days afterward. I wanted to go back to Marianne Engel’s art studio and listen to her tales of undying love again in order to piece together the clues that would solidify the facts behind her existence… or not.
Assuredly, this novel is not for the faint at heart; it is full of researched information that forces the reader to think while imagining. Davidson subtly weaves ancient history, varied cultural traditions, ancient legends, mythology, obscure medical terminology and procedures, art and foods from around the world into what could have been a very basic tale. And because he hooks the reader on the first page, nothing feels out of place or gratuitous. His style is starkly realistic yet filled with imagery and fantasy, but everything fits together just right. Anyone who chooses to enter the hospital burn ward or Marianne Engel’s sculpting studio will be rewarded with a strangely uplifting, yet harshly tragic reading experience. I'd love to recommend this for Oprah's book club. It deserves a wide reading audience.