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Book: The Gargoyle

April 18, 2011

I saw this book in hardcover at the thrift store and almost bought it, but then I thought, “Right. Not buying books that I am only going to read/refer to once. Not even for $3.” But I thought it looked good so I wrote it down and found it at the library.

Hmm. What would you call this? A gory medical romance? The agony of love, literally? It was… different. And not altogether in a bad way.

The somewhat unlikable unnamed narrator, a self-taught book-smart orphan who discovers at an early age that the only skill he really has in life is the seduction of women (being a beautiful specimen of the human species), becomes a rather despicable yet highly successful pornographer, with all the decadence and drug addiction associated with such a lofty profession. A truly miserable human being living a soulless life, he drives home too fast one night (high on cocaine and drinking whiskey from the bottle) and, startled by a hallucination, burns horribly in a fiery car crash.

I had to skip over the descriptions of the agony of the burns. At this point I wasn’t sure if this was a horror novel or what — it was way graphic. Still, probably would have been interesting if I had the stomach for it. Anyway, other than noting, “Ok, check. Burning hurts real, real bad.” I didn’t miss much by skipping the agony, so if you read this, feel free to skip that part too.

We catch up with our narrator as he is recovering (again with the agony) in the burn ward of the hospital. He is burned some ridiculous percentage of his body, including his formerly-beautiful face, and, of course, his penis is gone (men, beware: do not hold a bottle of highly flammable whisky in your crotch while driving real real fast. You don’t want to burn in that location). More agony. And quirky hospital workers (refreshingly, none of them a tired cliche). And really painful burn-patient procedures.

Get the picture? Lots of agony.

Then, in walks Marianne Engel, who is spending some time in the psych ward. She walks in, and says to him, “Oh! You’ve been burned again.” He says, confused, “No, this is the first time.” She says, “No, it’s the third time.” And so we start to learn about the possible centuries-old love between the two of them. A bit unlikely, to say the least. Still, that’s the story we’re handed. As they both begin to recover, Marianne shows her devotion to the lover she’s been searching for over the centuries (?) and he begins to find that (awwww) his heart wasn’t burned away, after all. I’m being a bit catty here but really, it’s an unlikely story.

What works, however, is Marianne Engel. Although who knows why she would want to remain in love with such a grump as our narrator, she spins him amazing stories of their love through the ages (actually, we are not sure if these stories are supposed to be just stories, or if they are different facets of their love story — we never really find out, but they’re good stories). She gets better and goes home (turns out she is a highly-regarded sculptor of — you guessed it — gargoyles), but continues to visit him every day, encouraging him to get better.

As Crispy Critter (as Marianne’s agent dubs him) recovers, we find that he is drawn into Marianne’s stories, and wants to hear more. She is devoted to him and of course, since he’s burned all over and will likely never find another person to love him ever again, he becomes attached to her. Eventually she takes him home with her to continue his treatment, and they set up house (sort of). She continues to sculpt, sometimes in disturbing manic phases which exhaust her completely.

Eventually, Marianne reveals that she only has a very few sculptures left in her, and then it will be her turn to die. But why? And how?

And why gargoyles? And is this supposed to be some kind of metaphor for our narrator, Crispy Critter?

And what’s this crazy bitchsnake that lives in his spine? And why did he literally have to go to Hell (later in the book, he takes a journey through Hades)? What’s up with that?

Anyway. This was an unusual book, and despite my gripes, I actually enjoyed it a lot. It’s a first novel and, contrary to the ravings on the back cover, you *can* tell — the agony is a bit gratuitous (you can hear the author saying to his editor, “No, no, please? Can’t we leave it in? It’s really important!” and the editor sighing, “No, actually, it’s not, but okay…”), the storytelling, while actually quite good, is a bit overdone, and there is a whole lot more packed into this book then there needs to be. For instance, this journey through Hell. I mean, I get it, they’d been reading The Inferno together, it’s a theme, burning, redemption, etc. I get it. But it didn’t add anything to the story, other than being a colorful side journey. It very easily could have been left out.

Anyway. It’s a quirky love story, an interesting journey through history, a bit mysterious and a little overblown. But I actually enjoyed it quite a bit, despite my criticisms.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 18, 2011 5:01 pm

    this book sounds interesting. unusual, but interesting.

    and your review is great.

    • April 19, 2011 8:16 am

      You know, it was a pretty good book. Unusual is nice sometimes. I could have done without the horrible descriptions of burning, but other than that..

  2. April 20, 2011 4:22 am

    I read this last year and was fairly surprised that it was enjoyable in a weird way lol.. probably not a book I’d reread but a good read

    • April 20, 2011 10:36 am

      I totally know what you mean — it was good, but I probably won’t reread it.

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