The opening chapter of this book instantly throws you into shock as the main protagonist finds himself, while drinking and driving late in the pre-dawn hours of morning, plunging down a steep mountain slope. The car doesn’t stand a chance against the forces of gravity and inertia as it gathers momentum down the hill, turns over, leaks fuel, explodes, burning both the car and the victim trapped within it. It is a terrible car crash where the main narrator is almost killed in the first scene. And what he manages to survive, leaves him horribly burnt for life. My favorite line in Chapter 1 …”Once you’ve spun that steering wheel around and found it doesn’t make any difference…you have this one, clear, pure thought…oh shit.” Nothing gets closer to the feeling of being on the precipice of a life altering moment that’s about to take place right before your disbelieving eyes.
A good portion of the novel’s opening chapters relate to the aftermath of what one sharp turn off the road is about to cause. The book goes into detail on the graft procedures he has to endure now that he is a third-degree burn patient. The depiction is so real, so unapologetically graphic, that, similar to when I’m watching a movie on DVD, I had to turn my eyes away from the page. Yes, literally turn them away. You can endure it as a reader, and be enlightened on the medical aspect of it, seriously. If you’ve never heard of a penectomy, here’s your chance. We also watch as he develops relations with the medical staff in the hospital, and more importantly, Marianne Engel, a sculptress of gargoyles who’s an artist who becomes the embodiment of, well, weird. But Marianne actually saves his life. Unable to withstand the agony inflicted by this misfortune, he was devising a well-crafted plan to commit suicide once upon his release from the hospital. But Marianne enriches his mind as she weaves stories (little vignettes that dominate chapters of their own, shifting immediately into her point of view, some of which entail tragic love). One which tells of their past together in medieval Germany when they were lovers. This is a storyline that Marianne adamantly believes in, the timbre of her voice is so somber, almost tired, that you believe she’s a product of the ages who’s lived centuries in the world, and is claim her reincarnated lover.
Let’s step back a little. When the main character was young, he didn’t exactly have a wholesome, stellar, “Brady Bunch” childhood. He was raised by “meth addict” relatives, but he eventually grows older to become a gorgeous man who puts his good looks and “well endowed” gift to good use. It goes without saying that after the accident, there is no career for him, much of what he owned was signed away to pay his medical bills, and in once incident after the accident, he watches a video of himself in all his sexual, vain glory, only to shut it off from the painful reminder of the man he is no more. At least physically. But we begin to understand his personal journey to a higher self, led by the woman who mysteriously, for no other reason but for the faith we’re asked to put into it, enters into his life.
Marianne was a bit strange, almost a tortured artist, and believed that God spoke to her as she “carved” the gargoyles from the block of stone. Telling them how to take shape. The ending just left me wondering: Did they really live a life together in the past? Are we to believe her story, or dismiss her as some deranged woman, manic artist who believed in it herself?