Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Great Fall Book!

Every now and then a book is published that pushes our boundaries, be they cultural, philosophical, religious, moral, or otherwise. For my part, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger was unreadable to me because of the profanity. I cannot stand to hear someone talk like that in person and I could not read it either. That much profanity, for me, seems to cloak an ignorance of vocabulary in general, though I certainly won't accuse Salinger of not having a strong command of the English language. To Kill a Mockingbird was published in the 1960’s, a particularly hot time in civil rights history, and elicited a furor because of Lee’s sympathetic treatment and characterizations of African Americans and equally disdainful treatment of some of the Caucasian citizens of the fictional Alabama town.

More recently, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini was a very powerful novel that portrayed disturbingly violent abuse among a group of young boys in Afghanistan. I had many patrons become so angry, both at the situation and the characters in it, that they turned the book back in without finishing it. I asked them to think about the fact that Mr. Hosseini had made them angry over the lives of imaginary people and to think about what that said for his talent and character development. I do not remember one patron who did not end up getting the book again and finishing it, proclaiming it one of the best they’d ever read.

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have become one of the most cherished series of literary history, but also one of the most banned and challenged of all time as well. It is imperative to look beyond this whimsical tale of magic, wizards and witches to the real discussions of importance of honesty, loyalty, bravery, of choosing to make the right decisions when you know the tragedy that will follow, where friendship is king and evil is to be defeated at all costs.

Last but not least, who can forget the controversy surrounding Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code? An adventurous ride through speculative religious history by way of some of the world’s most beloved art works, during its 140+ weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List The Da Vinci Code seemed to ruffle just as many feathers as it smoothed. Sometimes it is difficult to keep in mind that it is just a story--an intriguing story, an entertaining one, even an enchanting one, but still just a story--and this is especially true with authors that take artistic license with real events, places, things, and people.

And so, we come to Andrew Davidson’s debut novel, The Gargoyle. In one of the most disturbing opening scenes I have ever read, our narrator leads us step by step through a horrific car accident which leaves him with severe burns to most of his body. The first 50-75 pages are not a comfortable read. The recovery process is long and just as horrifying as the crash that precipitated it. Eventually, our narrator is on the mend physically but his mind is obviously having a more difficult time with it as he intends to heal only enough to be able to leave the hospital and commit suicide. We learn that he is an atheist, an actor/producer/director in the adult film industry, and has drug and alcohol addictions not helped by the flow of narcotic drugs currently being pumped into his system in the burn unit. Into this chaotic scene steps Marianne Engel and she brings with her the certainty that they shared a passionate love affair in Germany during the Middle Ages. As she tells of him of their past life, as a soldier suffering from horrible burns and the nun who cared for him, she also shares tragic affairs of lovers in Japan, Iceland, Italy and England.

Is Marianne crazy? Is the narrator crazy for thinking she might be telling the truth? Is it possible for two people with so many problems to love each other fully? Who/what exactly is the gargoyle of the book’s title? Do you believe? I find so many things to like about this book. It is a sweet love story between two much damaged people who manage to achieve real affection for one another despite their problems. It is a series of wonderful historical tales in a sort of frame narrative, each one separate and independent but adding to the story as a whole. It is an exploration of the darker places of the human soul and psyche from the safety of literary distance. What would you do in such a situation? How would you handle yourself in the face of such painful and debilitating medical circumstances? Would you take a shot at love and not consider the costs? What is your definition of sanity?

Questions, questions, questions….read The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson and find some of the answers for yourself.


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