What I learned from this book: if you are about to drive your car over a cliff so that it crashes and catches fire, this is not the time to spill a bottle of bourbon in your lap. That is catastrophically bad timing.
The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson is a love story, but an unusual one. The Narrator (who is never named in the book), is horribly burned in a car accident. While in the hospital for the long, painful recovery process, he meets Marianne. Now, Marianne is obviously nuts. She is convinced that she was born in 12th century Germany and raised in a convent. She claims that while in the convent, she met a mercenary who had been badly burned. She nursed him back to health, and later left the convent with him. She claims that the Narrator is this same soldier, and she has been waiting for his return.
Of course, she doesn’t tell this story all at once. It comes out in bits and pieces, while he is in the hospital and after his discharge, when he comes to live with her. She is a sculptor, specializing in gargoyles – “grotesques”, according to Marianne – and her manner of working is unusual, to say the least. She sleeps naked on the large blocks of stone, so she can hear the creatures within. She works without food or sleep but eats (yes – eats) instant coffee right out of the jar.
Nuts, right? Or is she.
There are things she knows about the Narrator. About a scar, about things that have happened to him, and she is utterly convinced that she is telling the truth. She can’t prove her story (how could she? she can’t be 700 years old!) but it has its own internal logic. Much of what she tells him is right in line with the historical record, and what is not can be explained. But then, that’s pretty common for schizophrenics. Still, you get that tingly feeling as the pieces start to come together and you can’t help but be intrigued.
The Narrator is a great character. His lousy childhood, his career as a porn star, his drug and alcohol addictions – none of that makes him very likable. His plan for committing suicide after he left the hospital was hilarious. But you cannot help but have sympathy for him; the accident and the burns were a very high price to pay for past sins. He’s thoughtful and intelligent and I think I would genuinely enjoy talking to him. He knows Marianne is nuts, but part of him, I think, really wants to believe. The idea that your suffering has some meaning is a powerful one.
The ending is both predictable and surprising, and I found myself very emotional. The story ends really the only way it possibly could, for both of them, but I found hope in it as well.
I have been recommending this book all over the place (I also think it could be a fabulous movie). My copy was an Advanced Reader Copy. Buy your copy of The Gargoyle at Amazon.com.