Everybody's had a feeling of being burned at the end of a relationship, but in Andrew Davidson's first novel, The Gargoyle, the flames come at the very beginning of the love story, when the book's unlikable, unnamed narrator 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 and is forced to spend more than a year in a specialized pressure garment. The experience leaves him scarred, but also unexpectedly changed:
"Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious face 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."
While recovering in a hospital, he meets Marianne Engel, 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.
Davidson says he had dreamed of Marianne's character — 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.
"This character came to me and said, 'OK, here I am and you're going to listen to me,' " he remembers. "She wasn't going to leave me alone if I didn't."
As Marianne and the narrator learn about each other's past and present lives, Davidson draws the reader into the couple's unorthodox, platonic romance.
"One of the questions that I always ask myself when developing characters is who do they love, why do they love this person and what happened in that relationship?" says Davidson. "If you know who somebody loves, [then] you know who that person is."