I bought my copy of Andrew Davidson’s book, The Gargoyle when it was first published in 2008. I was working at Indigo at the time and this book had a lot of buzz. It actually sounded like a book I would be interested in, too – the story of lovers separated by hundreds of years. I started reading and about fifty pages in I just put the book down and never picked it up again…until last month when it was chosen for my book club.
We’ve all had the experience, I’m sure. A book doesn’t appeal to you, but a few weeks/months/years later you dive in again only to be swept away. Yeah, not so much. The impetus for finishing this book was definitely because it was a book club selection and as I said when we met a few nights ago, I can’t really decide what it was about the book that just didn’t work for me, but the sum of its parts just didn’t add up somehow.
The unnamed narrator is driving on a twisty mountain road, a bottle of bourbon wedged between his legs, when he loses control of the car, smashes through a guard rail and the car lands on its roof at the bottom of a steep embankment.
“A car crash seems to take forever, and there is always a moment in which you believe that you can correct the error,” our narrator thinks as he flies, weightless, through the air. He does survive, but he and his life are changed forever.
Our narrator is burned so badly that he “plumped up like a freshly roasted wiener, [his] skin crackling to accommodate the expanding meat.” What follows is a graphic description of his burn injuries, perhaps too much information for the squeamish. I read a lot of horror/serial killer fiction, but even I found the catalogue of his injuries TMI at times. There’s a reason why he’s burned, though, and I get that.
Prior to his injury our narrator was a porn star. Yep – you read that right. By the time he graduated from high school, he had two skills: smoking drugs and screwing his counselor. He didn’t figure he could make any money smoking dope, but he discovered he could earn some cash posing naked and “from there it was a short jump to $150 for photos involving sexual activity and – since you’re already for posing for stills, anyway- it makes a lot of sense to double or triple your income by acting in videos.” Is this guy a likable character? Not particularly.
While recovering in the hospital, our narrator is visited by Marianne Engel who tells him that this is the third time he’s been burned. Thus begins their strange relationship. She visits him the hospital and tells him stories of lovers who have made great sacrifices for each other while also revealing to him, bit by bit, how they first met – seven hundred years ago when she was a nun and he was a mercenary.
There’s a lot going on in Davidson’s book – perhaps too much. Whether you believe in Marianne’s tale or not, the book is overstuffed and could do with, I think, some judicious editing. I am all about love that crosses time and space, but I just didn’t believe it here.