Like many of the plots of Jonathan Carroll — the novelist whom The Gargoyle most calls to mind — the plot of David Addison’s novel might seem precious or even silly when reduced to 25-words-or-less form: Addiction-prone man, hideously burned in car crash, meets beautiful sculptress who claims to have known him in 14th century, and undertakes difficult journey toward redemption.
But such a thin summary doesn’t do this rich, strange, book justice. Part of what it makes it work is the wealth of specific detail — Addison spent considerable effort researching the medical treatment and rehabilitation of burn victims, among other things, and it shows. The narrator begins the novel as an atheist whose strict empiricism goes somewhat beyond normal skepticism; paradoxically, I found that his disbelief in the sculptress’s stories made them more credible.
The book fits together like a puzzle box, with stories-within-stories and multiple resonances between the present and the (possible) past. Addison generally navigates this complex terrain deftly, but there are mis-steps: it’s obvious enough that the narrator, with his misshapen, ruined face is the gargoyle of the title; having him also sculpted in gargoyle form seems to belabor the point. Addison employs some authorial devices that are jarring by modern standards — the narrator addresses the reader directly and there’s at least one substantial chunk of “I didn’t know this then, but” exposition (in fairness, the narrator is setting pen to paper with previous authorial experience of writing porn movie “scripts” and few scraps of poetry; perhaps any clunkiness is deliberate on Addison’s part). A key chapter of the novel, which incorporates elements of myth and a much older work of literature, fell flat for me.
But despite a handful of flaws the book was engrossing, moving, and ultimately satisfying. It joins The Raw Shark Texts and Alive in Necropolis as the third remarkably strong debut novel I’ve read in the past few months, and I’ll be looking forward to Addison’s next.
needs more demons? Nope, the gargoyle comes with a doozy.