‘The Gargoyle’ one of the best books of the year

  Andrew Davidson’s “The Gargoyle” is many things.
  A modern “Inferno.” A fairy tale.  A historic novel.  A tale of redemption.  A love story.
  And possibly one of the best books of the year.
  “The Gargoyle” opens with a fiery crash that leaves the unnamed narrator, a drug-addicted porn star, horrifically burned: his flesh melted, his toes sliced off, his leg shattered, his penis turned to ashes.
  Remarkably, he survives the accident and is taken to the hospital, where he undergoes months of treatments for his burns, oftentimes wishing he hadn’t survived.
  His life now saved, it’s during his recovery in the burn ward he meets the people who will save his soul. The most important being Marianne Engel, a sculptress who could be schizophrenic, bipolar, delusional, all or none of those. She believes they were lovers in medieval German, where she was a nun and he was a badly burned mercenary. Marianne Engel nurses his spirit, telling him the story of how they met as well as folk tales about love from various cultures.
  Slowly, this angry, self-centered man begins to like and care about other people, and maybe even himself.
  “While I’m not claiming that I now feel great love for all people, I can state with some confidence that I hate fewer people than I used to. This may seem like a weak claim to personal growth, but sometimes these things should be judged by distance traveled rather than by current position.”
  As he recovers, he feels more hopeful about his future, recognizing that only through his physical disfigurement has his soul become more radiant.
  “What an unexpected reversal of fate: only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel. Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious face and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.”
  The book continually references Dante’s “Inferno.” Marianne says she translated the book in the 1300s and read it to the narrator when he was recovering from his first burn. She reads it to him again.
  “As she read me the tale of Dante’s journey, I found it deeply familiar and I loved it despite (or perhaps because of?) my burn ward surroundings. There was something comforting in having Marianne Engel read it to me, and in the way she curled her fingers into mine as she did. I marveled at the twisting mix of our glorious and ghastly hands, and I wanted her reading of the story to never end — perhaps because I was afraid that when it did, she would no longer continue to lead me, hand in hand, through my own Hell.”
  Later, while in the throes of withdrawal, he does indeed take his own journey through Hell. Francesco, a character from one of Marianne’s stories, is his guide.
  “Seeing the look of revulsion on my face, Francesco said, ‘None are here by accident. Hell is a choice because salvation is available to anyone who seeks it. The damned choose their fates, by deliberately hardening their hearts.’ ”
  Throughout “The Gargoyle,” Davidson had me laughing and crying. He illustrates that though we might not all be burned, we all have scars. Some might think I gave too much away in this review, but I assure you I did not. This is one of those rare novels that, as soon as I was done with it I wanted to pick it up and read it again.
  Beautiful and funny. Touching and haunting.
  “You are mine, I am yours; you may be sure of this. You’ve been locked inside my heart, the key has been thrown away; within it, you must always stay.”

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