I'll be completely honest with you, I only picked up this book because the cover seduced me. A woman's back is a lovely thing, and I dig tattoos, so sue me. I surely did not expect to find the story I read within the pages of this book. Right off the bat, I commend the author for creating such a moving love story wherein sex is nowhere to be found. Don't get me wrong, I love bumpity-bump as much as the next warm-blooded individual, but having it be the foundation of a relationship is a foolish venture. Anyway, for everything I loved about this book, a few things irritated me. I'll start with those.
Our narrator (unnamed, for some reason) speaks of the female lead, always, as Marianne Engel. Never simply Marianne, but her entire name. It gets old really quick, as the narrator doesn't speak of anyone else in their full name. I know it's a nitpick, but it's my nitpick, so shut up. Next, the author has a horrible habit of telling us about conversations without letting his characters talk for themselves. This has to be the worst form of telling instead of showing that I've come across in years. There is more explanation of dialogue than there is actual dialogue in this novel. Things like: He told me that he didn't want to do this, so I said he shouldn't. That isn't an excerpt from the book, but you get the idea. Lastly, I never once believed in the narrator's addiction to morphine. He never showed signs of his abuse of the drug, nor did he react properly when the drug was denied him. Still, the section of the book when he beats the "bitchsnake" was the best part to me. Not because of his battle with addiction but... well, you'll see.
Now, onto the good stuff. I read Dante's Inferno in high school, as, I'm sure, several of you did as well. For the most part, it was lost on me. After finishing THE GARGOYLE, I want to reread Inferno. The section I mentioned above, where our narrator defeats the "bitchsnake" living in his spine (you'll have to read the book to understand what that means), sees the MC traversing Dante's version of Hell. The visuals alone gave me a mental boner. I know that sounds crude, but it's the truth. I think the only other book to produce such strikingly vivid images in mind was Pessl's NIGHT FILM, wherein Scott becomes trapped in the box, or meets the entity on the bridge. These are images not known to the average reader, meaning, we have nothing real to base these images on, no real-life comparison, and we can only go by what the author describes. Andrew Davidson took me into Dante's Hell better than Dante did, and for that, I applaud him.
Reading THE GARGOYLE reminded me of entering the worlds of the Brothers Grimm and Aesop, when I was child. At times whimsical, other times dark, the stories Marianne tells our narrator are on par with some of the greatest tales ever told. (Note: If Davidson rehashed old wives' tales and made them his own, I don't know, but I've never heard of these stories before). In fact, the fables were my second favorite part of this book. I couldn't wait for another story from Marianne. And when every tale was intertwined to create Davidson's own version of redemption, I quite possibly squeed. Full-on flailing fangirl, was I. I love when an author comes full circle with a story, making every part of the tale important to the body of work. THE GARGOYLE is masterful, and stunning in the fact that it's Davidson's first book.
Now onto the section of this book where my opinion turns biased. Marianne Engle works herself into collapse several times throughout the novel, attempting to uncover and release pent up grotesques from their stone prisons. I understand that mindset. I can write for days at a time, forgetting to eat, ignoring my surroundings, neglecting those I love, simply to finish my vision. It's not a conscious decision, but one I make all the same. I know what it feels like working to an end and never seeing that end because my attention is instantly called elsewhere, to yet another story needing to be told. Sometimes it feels as if I cannot write fast enough. Other days, I don't wish to write any faster than I currently am because I enjoy my fictitious world far more than everyday life. Davidson describes this compulsion to perfection, and I read about myself in these pages.
In summation: Andrew Davidson's THE GARGOYLE is a feat to be experienced. If you speed read, put away your Reeboks for a moment and enjoy the scenery. Davidson is descriptive without being heavily verbose, and that's one of the reasons I will read everything he produces, I only wish that he allowed his characters to do more of the talking. What he's managed to accomplish with THE GARGOYLE has left me looking inward, wondering how I can be a better man... you know, without losing my dick in a fire.