by Andrew Davidson
Review by Gayle Surrette
Doubleday Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780385524940
Date: 05 August 2008 List Price $25.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
Have you every read a book that starts out like a simple story that may entertain you but, as you continue reading, you find that what you thought was happening might not be what's happening? That's what The Gargoyle does. In the first few pages our main character, a porno star/director/producer is driving his car down a mountain road after imbibing just a bit too much coke and bourbon when the inevitable crash occurs and he barely survives, burnt beyond all recognition. What happens next? There's several possible scenarios that Davidson could have taken but he manages to find one that surprises and entrances.
We never learn the main viewpoint character's name, or at least I couldn't remember it, and I flipped through the book checking out all my notes and underlines. Thinking it over for this review, his name is not important really -- or rather it is because he lost all his identity when he was burned -- he lost his face, some body parts, and his most important gender significator (yes, that part -- you know what I mean). He's lost all of the characteristics that defined him in his life. When he wakes in the hospital burn ward seven weeks later, he looses his business and all his assets.
We learn more than we ever wanted to learn about burns, burn treatments, and the people who work with burn patients. This sets the mood for our narrator who is telling the story and it's rather bleak, though his thoughts and observations are starkly brilliant and painfully truthful with moments of sheer poetry and poignancy. Then we meet Marianne Engel. She's a psychiatric patient who carves grotesques and gargoyles. She's claims to know our narrator and has been waiting for him for nearly seven hundred years.
Thus starts a strange relationship between the narrator and this woman who has suddenly become part of his life and his convalescence. In a series of stories and meetings, we learn more about Marianne and our narrator. We also learn more about history and religion as the narrator struggles to find errors in Marianne's stories. What should we believe? What should our narrator believe? Is she crazy? Is she just delusional? We don't know and neither does the narrator.
The power is in the unknown. As the stories told by Marianne unfold, a history is built upon which her reality is based. Is it true? Is it fabrication? That's for the reader and our narrator to determine.
This is a powerful book that defies categories, but it definitely strikes to the heart of love, fidelity, loyalty, and honor. It's not a thriller or exciting adventure, it smoothly pulls you along on to discover the core of what's important in life -- our narrator and perhaps our own.