Been there, done that?
You drive into a town that you’ve never visited before and suddenly, without a smidge of doubt you know there’s a diner around a certain corner. You walk in, squeeze into a booth and look at a menu that’s so familiar you barely need to read it. You’ve been there before, but that’s impossible.
Dej? vu? Or — if you cotton to that sort of thing — a past life?
In the new novel “The Gargoyle” by Andrew Davidson, a horribly injured man isn’t sure what to believe. But he’s about to believe in love.
In his past life, the one before the accident, he was a brutally handsome adult movie star. With no family to shame but money to make, he had women for work and for hobby. Drugs and alcohol were easily available, constant companions.
And then there was the accident.
Drunk and high, he was driving down a mountain road when he saw arrows, or thought he did. He lost control of the car, which flipped end-over-end and caught fire with him inside. He remembered the crackle as his skin roasted.
No more career, no more fair-weather friends. Suicide was appealing. Twenty-four hours after his release from the hospital, whenever that would be, he would end it all.
And then Marianne Engel showed up.
She was obviously a psychiatric patient but she must have spoken with his doctors: when she came to see him, she knew everything about him. Marianne Engel had a “cute figure,” eyes that changed color and long, wild hair. She carved gargoyles, wore odd clothes, had Biblical tattoos and told him she had Three Masters and many hearts. Her job on earth was to get rid of the hearts.
And then she said it was his third time burned. She began to tell him stories.
Once upon a time, she said, they met in a cottage at the edge of a monastery. She was a scribe. He was a for-life mercenary. After he was burned in battle, she cared for him and healed him and they fell in love. But love wasn’t enough to save them and she needed him to understand. Marianne Engel knew they would be reunited someday and she’s lived for that moment.
For more than 700 years.
More than a love story but not quite a romance novel, “The Gargoyle” is beautiful and gruesome but soars with devotion and redemption. The main character, a man that author Andrew Davidson never names, is an interesting study of chip-on-shoulder and Marianne Engel is the perfect enigma.
I especially enjoyed the way Marianne Engel teases out her stories; it reminded me of my favorite storybooks with the squirmy twist of adult meanness and a dash of medieval history. These grim fairytales ain’t Grimm fairytales, but they’re compelling reading and they put a nice polish on the story.
If you or your book group is looking for a fanciful, historical novel with a modern twist, you can’t go wrong with “The Gargoyle.” For you, this book is monstrously good.
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