In the opening pages of The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson, a pornographer high on cocaine runs his car off a mountain road. The vehicle bursts into flames and burns him beyond recognition. Thus transforms the world for a cynical, 35-year-old man who loses everything -- his career, his looks, his penis -- in those first fiery minutes.
The protagonist, who remains nameless throughout the novel, is undeniably a creep, the kind of guy I'd walk across hot coals to avoid confronting in real life. But somehow Davidson uses extraordinary talent to draw out his hero's redeeming qualities - and by the end of the book, I liked him. Well, almost.
Davidson's voice is unique and strong - it took me almost a week to read the novel, and often his "voice" lulled me to sleep like a macabre lullaby. I have no idea what the hero of the novel looked like before the burns, but Davidson's writing is so vivid, imagining his protagonist's broiled and scarred face presents no challenge now.
And at times, my heart ached for him.
One of the most important people in my life was a victim of a tragic house fire when she was just four years old. Her body, much like Gargoyle's narrator, was badly burned and though clothing covers the majority of her damaged skin, she has a constant reminder of the accident every time she looks in the mirror - a small scar burnt into her cheek, just under a gorgeous blue eye. This burn is not the first thing people see when they look at her, nor is it what they remember most about her - she has one of the most beautiful hearts I have ever known.
Unfortunate consequences forced us to end our friendship, but I think of her often. While reading Gargoyle, I thought of her at every sentence.
Which may have skewed my impression of the book.
At its core, Gargoyle is a love story, meant to transcend the boundaries of time. The narrator's love interest is a "wild-haired, schitzophrenic sculptress" who tries to convince him that they have not only known each other for 700 years, but they have also been in love for all of that time. Marriane's story - and the tale of their love - is told intermittently through the book, and while interesting, I didn't find the prose as captivating as I'd been led to expect.
While in the hero's voice, Davidson is brilliant. His phrasing is incredible, and as my friend Kyle promised, I found myself in awe of the literary style the author obviously commands. Almost every scene ends with a quotable sentence, designed to not only make you turn the page, but also marvel at the words. At times, I wanted to skip through the Marianne nonsense and move back to the hero's descent into hell - and his climb back to salvation. I encouraged my muse to suck up some of that brilliance.
Despite the jacket cover's assurance that Gargoyle would leave me "believing in miracles, in love, and in the power of storytelling", I was more than ready for "the end" when it finally came. The book could stand to lose about 75 pages and the ending could use a little more emotion.
Still, even as I finished the book late last night, Davidson's voice sung me to sleep and it was the first thing I thought of this morning. I'm hopeful putting the novel back on my shelf will now silence his voice for a while -- but I'll need to read something much lighter and less intense to be certain. Covet? A likely choice.