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Andrew Davidson's new novel isn't quite as intricate as that movie, but its pretty close. It's called "The Gargoyle." And it tells a disturbing love story that spans centuries and continents. Rick Kleffel of member station KUSP in Central California has the story.
RICK KLEFFEL: The unlikable, unnamed narrator of Andrew Davidson's first novel, "The Gargoyle," crashes his car while driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Trapped in the fiery wreck, he suffers third and fourth degree burns over most of his body.
Mr. ANDREW DAVIDSON (Author, "The Gargoyle"): (Reading) What an unexpected reversal of fate, only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel.
KLEFFEL: In this reading from the novel, the narrator experiences his skin after more than a year in a specialized pressure garment.
Mr. DAVIDSON: (Reading) Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart. I accepted this atrocious phase and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.
KLEFFEL: While recovering in a hospital, he meets Marianne Engel. She's a sculptor of grotesque gargoyles who tells him stories of past lives in which she claims they were lovers. The settings of her tales range from ninth century Iceland to 13th century Germany and beyond. Andrew Davidson had dreamed of her, a woman with wild hair and eyes to match and began writing the novel when a particularly vivid vision ensured he could no longer ignore her.
Mr. DAVIDSON: She was in front of a church saying things that were a little bit crazy or sounded crazy, but I knew they weren't. This character came to me and said, OK, here I am, and you're going to listen to me. She wasn't going to leave me alone if I didn't.
KLEFFEL: As he worked on "The Gargoyle," he wrote for websites and taught English in Japan. He was also teaching himself by imitating great writers from all disciplines.
Mr. DAVIDSON: Poetry was all about the word and the beauty of the line and the preciseness of the language. Stage plays, it's all about dialogue. Screenplays are all about the visuals.
KLEFFEL: Davidson says that the most enjoyable part of his work is the research.
Mr. DAVIDSON: For me, it's discovering that what I need to understand is how homes were built in ninth century Iceland. It's discovering that what I really need to find out about is the treatment of severe burns.
KLEFFEL: He pursued wildly diverging avenues of research without worrying how they fit into his fiction, and some did not. But he knew he would include a simple beguiling idea for an inverted love story.
Mr. DAVIDSON: Everybody has had this feeling of being burned at the end of a relationship. And I had been wondering for a long time, how can I write a story that starts with a burn? So it was a number of things coming together, this interesting burn treatment. It was the story idea that I had been carrying around for a long time and the character of Marriane Engel.
KLEFFEL: As Marianne Engel and the burned narrator are learning about each other's lives, past and present, Davidson draws the reader into their unorthodox platonic romance.
Mr. DAVIDSON: One of the questions that I always ask myself when developing characters is, who do they love, and why do they love this person, and what happened in that relationship? Because this gives you a real sense of who somebody is. I mean, if you know who somebody loves, you know who that person is.
KLEFFEL: Andrew Davidson says he set out to write a love story. But "The Gargoyle" that emerged from the flames of the car crash combines a disturbing imagination with a passion for research. For NPR News, I'm Rick Kleffel.
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