The Gargoyle Hunters

John Freeman Gill. Knopf, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-101-94688-6
Gill, who has written extensively about New York City’s architectural gems, makes his fiction debut with a coming-of-age tale about preservation and its discontents. The result is flawed but intriguing, a structure whose outward charm conceals some hidden cracks. In the late 1970s, the young narrator, Griffin, lives in an Upper East Side row house with his sister, bohemian mother, and the steady stream of down-on-their-heels boarders she takes in. Living downtown, his mercurial father restores antique architectural decorations, often pilfered from one of the many buildings slated to be torn down by “brutally efficient” demolition contractors as the city continues to “cannibaliz[e] itself.” Dad enlists the nimble, eager-to-please Griffin in his thieving efforts, which involve prying gargoyles perched on Manhattan’s historic buildings, then a more ambitious effort: to “steal a building.” The portrait of Griffin’s father has some nice touches—he is the kind of man who takes his baby out for a midnight walk and returns with a terra-cotta bust strapped onto the carriage—but he comes across less as a rounded character than an eccentric tour guide holding forth on ornamental features, lambasting philistine developers, or speechifying: “The lives lived by generations of New Yorkers in and around a historic building give it all kinds of layers of collective meaning—a patina of memory and grime and experience.” Griffin himself is a winning narrator striving to map his place within urban and familial landscapes in a bewildering state of flux. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 03/21/2017
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-0-14-752411-9
Ebook - 978-1-101-94689-3
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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