The Gargoyle Hunters: A Novel by John Freeman GillThe Gargoyle Hunters: A Novel by John Freeman Gill

The Gargoyle Hunters: A Novel

byJohn Freeman Gill

Audio Book (CD) | March 21, 2017

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Hilarious and poignant, The Gargoyle Hunters is a love letter to a vanishing city, and a deeply emotional story of fathers and sons. Intimately portraying New York’s elbow-jostling relationship with time, the novel solves the mystery of a brazen and seemingly impossible architectural heist—the theft of an entire historic Manhattan building—that stunned the city and made the front page of The New York Times in 1974.

With both his family and his city fracturing, thirteen-year-old Griffin Watts is recruited into his estranged father’s illicit and dangerous architectural salvage business. Small and nimble, Griffin is charged with stealing exuberantly expressive nineteenth-century architectural sculptures—gargoyles—right off the faces of unsung tenements and iconic skyscrapers all over town. As his father explains it, these gargoyles, carved and cast by immigrant artisans during the city’s architectural glory days, are an endangered species in this era of sweeping urban renewal.
          Desperate both to connect with his father and to raise cash to pay the mortgage on the brownstone where he lives with his mother and sister, Griffin is slow to recognize that his father’s deepening obsession with preserving the architectural treasures of Beaux Arts New York is also a destructive force, imperiling Griffin’s friendships, his relationship with his very first girlfriend, and even his life.
           As his father grows increasingly possessive of both Griffin’s mother and his scavenged touchstones of the lost city, Griffin must learn how to build himself into the person he wants to become and discover which parts of his life can be salvaged—and which parts must be let go. Maybe loss, he reflects, is the only thing no one can ever take away from you.
            Tender, funny, and achingly sad, The Gargoyle Hunters introduces an extraordinary new novelist.

JOHN FREEMAN GILL is a native New Yorker and former reporter for the New York Times City section. His work has been anthologized in The New York Times Book of New York and More New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of The New York Times. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observ...
Title:The Gargoyle Hunters: A NovelFormat:Audio Book (CD)Dimensions:5.9 × 5.1 × 1.1 inPublished:March 21, 2017Publisher:Penguin Random House Audio Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0147524113

ISBN - 13:9780147524119

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Excerpt 1Every new yorker has his own idiosyncratic system of cartography, his personal method of charting the points of correspondence between the external city and the landmarks of his interior streetscape. No surveyor’s equipment is necessary, just a wry acceptance of the ephemeral. For many of us, the resulting map is a distorted but truthful rendering of New York in which vanished buildings and storefronts are as present as surviving ones, often more so. Glance at your own homemade map as you walk around town and you’ll be struck by all the uncelebrated places—­a rent-­controlled walk-­up you lived in before you knew yourself very well, or the site of a long-­gone bar where you used to meet a close friend who’s since drifted away—­that pop out of the mad eternal rush hour and demand your attention. But only yours. Everyone else on that street hurries past with places to go, dry cleaning to pick up, important artisanal cheese to purchase. They are oblivious to that crucial landmark of that earlier you. They have their own landmarks.Me, too. The sacked capitol of my New York will always be the Queen Anne row house on Eighty-­Ninth Street between Lex and Third where my family lived in the late 1960s and ’70s. A brick-­and-­brownstone confection enlivened with ironwork, a pedimented dormer, an oriel, and even a mansard roof, it was something of a grandly tricked-­out imp, just twelve feet wide, squashed in the middle of a jostling troupe of six.You can still go see it. Along with the rest of the row, built in 1887 by descendants of sugar baron William Rhinelander, it appears in most city architectural guidebooks (though it’s notably absent from the three I’ve written, as well as from all my magazine columns). And in one of New York’s colossal ironies, my childhood brownstone will outlive us all. After everything was over, after all the intricate destruction, the city went and designated the row of houses as historic landmarks, throwing a too-­little-­too-­late bubble of protection over them.If you have a taste for good architecture, you may appreciate the look of my family’s old house, may even stop a moment to take in its quirkish elegance as you pass by. But it won’t shimmer with meaning for you as it does for me, just as I can walk right by that old coffee shop—­the one where you had those eggs before that big job interview all those years ago, or where that exasperating lover with the beautiful neck told you it was over—­without the slightest inkling that this is the capitol of your New York.Every few years, I climb the chipped steps of our old brownstone when I’m pretty sure nobody’s home. I lean over the ornate wrought-­iron stoop railing, cup my hands around my eyes like horse blinders, and peer through the stained-­glass window.To me, it’s always 1974 in there. At that time—­the year of being thirteen, the year before President Ford took one look at our vividly crumbling city and told us all to drop dead—­that brownstone started getting mighty crowded. My mother, you see, had adopted another stray, her fifth since my father had left us a few months earlier. This one’s name was Mr. Price, and he was going to share the third floor with me, which meant half my medicine cabinet, all of my toilet seat, and probably even my loofah.I just hoped to hell he wasn’t one of those really hairy guys. It was bad enough waiting for some boarder to finish toweling off his privates before you could get in to use your own shower, but if he was one of those molting oldsters who were always leaving hair on the soap, well, that’s when I felt like stomping down to Mom’s room and telling her enough was enough.I spied through the spindles of the second-­floor banister while Mom blathered with Mr. Price on the first-­floor landing. She was holding his wrist, gripping it with her fingers like a nurse who doubted his pulse, and lying cheerfully about how glad Quigley and I were that he was joining “our little jury-­rigged family.” He had on a rumpled gray suit with a magnificently pressed hankie, two white peaks rising from his jacket pocket flat and perfect as postcard Alps. He bowed his balding head a lot and called my mother Mrs. Watts in a fussy English accent.I wondered what was wrong with him. He seemed reasonably civilized—­not too hairy, either—­but I didn’t trust this impression, because all of Mom’s boarders were misfits. So after Mr. Price had spent some quality time in my bathroom and had begun puttering around in his new bedroom down the hall, I locked myself in the crapper and started going through all his stuff. Foreign guys like Mr. Price always had these hoity-­toity toilet kits made of buttery leather and filled with swanky things like eau de cologne.“Griffin!” My mother was banging on the bathroom door. “You in there?”I turned on the faucet so she wouldn’t hear Mr. Price’s personal effects jostling around in their case. When I didn’t answer her, Mom gave a couple of follow-­up knocks, less confident than before. Her knuckles sounded soft and fleshy, the way the chicken breasts always had when Dad pounded them before dinner with a meat tenderizer shaped like a gavel.“Listen, Griffin,” she said through the door, “I’ve made up my mind about the ruin—­and it involves you. So as soon as you’re done in there, maybe you could come downstairs and give Mr. Price a little privacy.”“Yeah, all right,” I answered. “I understand.”That was what I always said when I planned to ignore her. I’d gotten so good at it that I could say, “Yeah, all right, I understand”—­in sincere, good-­son tones—­all while paying so little attention to my mother that the noises she made with her mouth never once registered in my mind as words.“You’re not even listening to me, are you?” She sounded pretty irritated.“Sure I am. Sure I’m listening.” I quickly replayed in my head our last thirty seconds of conversation. Some people have photographic memory; I’ve always had phonographic memory.I cleared my throat. “You’ve . . . ​made up your mind about the ruin,” I repeated, “and the thing is, it involves me. So . . . ​when I’m finished in here and all, you were sort of thinking that I could come downstairs and maybe give Mr. Price some privacy.” I took a deep breath. “See, I was listening.”“That doesn’t count! I used to do that exact regurgitation trick when I was thirteen. Just because you can repeat what I say word for word doesn’t mean you’re listening. You hear what I’m saying?”“Well, I’m not sure, but it sounded to me, Mom, like you were basically saying that you used to do that exact regurgitation trick when you were thirteen, and just because I can repeat what you say word for word doesn’t mean I’m listening.”“Jesus, you’re exasperating. Just come down to my room when you’re done.”“Yeah, all right,” I said. “I understand.”After taking pains to put Mr. Price’s things back in order, I turned off the running water. But I didn’t go downstairs right away. There was this lump inside my corduroys that I wanted to handle first.Just before Mr. Price had shown up, I’d come across another of those nasty notes my father was always leaving for my mother. I’d been quick to stuff it in my pocket, because I couldn’t stand how upset Dad’s letters made her. Her eyes would get this awful down-­in-­the-­dumps look before she’d read even a sentence or two, and then her whole face would get all twisted and gargoyley from the effort of trying not to cry. It was more than you wanted to see, really, and you pretty much had to get the hell out of the room or risk getting all gargoyley yourself.I pulled the crumpled ball of paper from my pocket, sat down on the toilet, and flattened it on my knee. It was maybe the ninth or tenth furious Dad-­note I’d intercepted since he’d moved out. He was our landlord now (“landlord of all he surveys,” Mom called him), and he was constantly stopping by for surprise inspections my mother could never pass. Over time, his visits had come to resemble an endless series of pop quizzes given by an unfulfilled teacher who wants only to watch you fail so he can feel hurt about how you’ve let him down. Half the times Dad came by, he’d discover something that infuriated him, and when that happened, he would whip out his pen and leave Mom an embittered note in the very spot where he’d been jumped by his anger.I spent a certain amount of my free time scouring the house in search of these little cow pies of disgruntlement, hoping to scoop them up before Mom stumbled on them. At one time or another I’d found irate notes from Dad in every one of our boarders’ rooms, as well as in Mom’s underwear drawer, in her closet, and in her artist’s palette, jammed scrollwise into the thumbhole and sealed with a hardened white tadpole of paint.The note now resting on my leg, however, had been sitting right by the kitchen phone. Dad’s rage was becoming respectable, a commonplace notation alongside messages from Quig’s theater friends and Mom’s framer:Ivy—­Some unctuous Brit called while I was here checking the stove for gas leaks. He said his name was Price and that he was moving in here this week. I hope you’re at least getting some rent from this one. I asked him what he did for a living, and he just kept saying he was “in newspapers.”That last bit, I learned later, was one of Mr. Price’s little jokes on himself. With a pointed vagueness that made listeners suspect he was the lost heir of William Randolph Hearst, Mr. Price was forever telling people he was “in newspapers.” He took private glee in saying so, as he often slept on a park bench with sections of the Daily News stuffed up his pant legs for warmth.The rest of the note was scrawled at full tilt, ending with a rant: “At the rate you keep bringing these men under my roof, you’re sure to be too busy giving them all head to raise my kids right.”“Griffin!” My mother was hollering again, this time from downstairs. “No one takes that long to go to the bathroom!”Memory is a slippery thing, and whenever Quigley and I compare notes about those years growing up in the brownstone, there are inevitably a bunch of little details we disagree on. But one thing we remember the same way is the yelling: everybody was always yelling in that house. This was partly because we were eternally pissed at each other and partly because it was a big old five-­story brownstone and the person you wanted to talk to never seemed to be on the same floor as you. We were all experts at escalating a squabble, too. If you pitched your voice down the stairs with just the right amount of put-­upon forbearance, you could make it pretty clear that you considered the distance between yourself and your listener not just an inconvenience but a symptom of some hideous flaw in her character.I opened the door a crack. “All right already! I’ll be right down!”I shut the door and toed the toilet seat upright with one of my red Puma Clydes. Then I ripped Dad’s letter in half and in half and in half until his hostility toward my mom was torn into thirty-­two manageable fragments. These I scattered into the toilet bowl, letting them settle on the blue Sani-­Flush water no more than a few seconds before I unzipped my fly and whizzed all over them. It felt good: I was a Pee-­51 fighter pilot above the Pacific Basin, raining destruction upon the enemy flotilla. Death from above.Mom’s room, as usual, was bathed in shadows. Some months earlier she’d painted the ceiling black and the walls a dusky brick red, which gave the room, at all hours, an air of incipient nightfall. Her curtains, decorated with engravings of timeworn Italian towers, jagged bites chomped from their corners, were always tugged closed. She didn’t want the folks in the tenements behind the brownstone to look in her window.“Just thinking about it makes me feel violated,” she said.Losing her view of our backyard garden didn’t bother her a bit, though. She was a city girl, a native New Yorker, and I think she found the natural world almost hokey, a lowbrow entertainment for rural folk like my dad.This afternoon, astonishingly enough, Mom was not sitting on her bed, the spot where she spent most of her waking hours reading, chatting on the phone, or carving woodcuts on a blue gingham picnic blanket. So I nearly jumped out of my tube socks when I heard her voice from the other side of the room: “Mr. Price’s toiletries in order?”She was standing near the window, wearing a brick-­red turtleneck that blended her into the wall. A breeze came up, parting the curtains slightly and opening a thin fissure of light in the belly of an Italian rampart.“Any reason they shouldn’t be?” I answered.She didn’t pursue it. “Listen,” she said instead, “your father’s still refusing to pay anyone to tear down the outhouse, so I was hoping you could take care of it for me.” She picked at a scab on her thumb, worrying it with an elegant maroon fingernail. “I mean, it’s such a wreck, and I’m really trying to get things straightened up around here.”She pulled back the Italian ruin to reveal the New York ruin behind it. The invading sunlight made me blink, but for a rare moment I saw what she saw.That ruined outhouse had always been with us. At the edge of the yard it stood, shafts of light slicing through the rotten slats of its walls. Older than even the brownstone, it had supposedly been put up to serve the wood-­frame cottage that originally stood on the spot the brownstone now occupied, in what was then the country village of Yorkville. Dad surmised that they’d left the outhouse up for the workers to use while they built the brownstone (which had indoor plumbing), and then for some reason—­cost or maybe inertia—­the old thing was never taken down.After the brownstone was finished in 1887, the outhouse was abandoned, sealed shut, left alone. Nothing entered or exited. Except, that is, for a single stealthy tree, whose seed blew through the bars of the window and through the hole in the seat, fertilizing itself in the human waste. In time, the tree grew thick and coarse, shooting upward and heading back out the window in search of light. It was hard to guess how long its jailbreak had taken, but there was no missing the violence of its escape. The moment was preserved within the window frame, the tree thrusting through the thin iron bars, shoving them aside like a great knotted fist emerging from the abdomen of a guitar. A tree, unlike a person, cannot hide its past.

Editorial Reviews

A Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers PickA Booklist Best New Adult Fiction of 2017 PickA Brooklyn Rail Best Book of 2017 “Marvelously evocative … exuberant … eye-opening … [an] urban Indiana Jones-like escapade.” —The New York Times“The Gargoyle Hunters is wonderful, strong, funny, with yards and yards of beautiful writing. Its pages are full of reading pleasures… Extraordinary.” —Annie Proulx, Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author of The Shipping News and "Brokeback Mountain"“[An] unabashedly charming story …  What fantastic adventures these two have while creeping around and up New York buildings in the middle of the night, liberating ornaments that might fall by the wrecking ball tomorrow — or someday. There’s no job too risky that Watts won’t send his son tiptoeing out on a crumbling ledge, or crawling across a sagging board, or even dangling from a fraying rope to rescue an endangered gargoyle 50 stories off the ground. Looking back, Griffin realizes these were not ‘reasonable things for a grown man to ask of a thirteen-year-old boy who wanted only to get close to him,’ but at the time, he was thrilled. And frankly, so are we.”—Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World"A must-read book." —The New York Post“In the spirit of Jonathan Lethem and J. D. Salinger, John Freeman Gill strips the mask off New York City in this poignant, incisive, irreverent novel about fatherhood, art, obsession, creation, and destruction. This novel salvages so many things, not least our abiding relationship with the past. This is a wonderful, compelling debut.” —Colum McCann, National Book Award–winning author of Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic   “John Freeman Gill's The Gargoyle Hunters is a brilliant evocation of many things: the world of a thirteen-year-old boy, with its mixture of thoughtless destructiveness and wrenching emotion; a son’s relationship with a charismatic, architecture-loving, thieving father; the endless changes to timeless Manhattan during the crumbling, tumultuous 1970s. Funny, heartbreaking, elegiac, unforgettable—David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green meets E. B. White’s Here Is New York.”—Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Happiness Project“The Gargoyle Hunters is that rarest of all animals—a beautifully written literary novel that also just happens to be a rollicking, cinematic, ripsnortingly funny tale with action sequences as exciting as those of Hollywood’s best films. Ever wonder how a father and son could possibly steal an entire New York City building, cornice to curb? Here’s your chance to find out.”—Doug Liman, director of The Bourne Identity, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and Edge of Tomorrow“A stellar debut … Gill, who is a noted expert on historical architecture, brings a DeLillo-like eye for detail to his descriptions of the city while also perfectly capturing the father-son relationship in all its warmth, hero-worship, and, ultimately, disappointment. A bildungsroman rich with symbolism, wistful memory, and unabashed longing, this is a remarkably tender love letter to a city and historical fiction par excellence. For fans of Donna Tartt and Colum McCann.” —Booklist, starred review  “Seventies New York comes alive in The Gargoyle Hunters …  An ambitious, elegiac tale that gazes up at the greats … wholly original … There's more than enough page-turning action here for any reader to envision the movie adaptation, but back to the central virtue of this buzz-worthy book: the sentences. The screen can't capture those. … As Gill writes in the book's final chapter: ‘Any New Yorker who's paying attention will tell you that the city is a living, breathing organism at war with itself.’ Why do we stay? For stories like this.” —The Village Voice“Extravagantly satisfying … It held me, delighted me, and left me enthralled. Teems with the particular vitality of its time and place, yet it is never for one minute especially ‘nostalgic.’ It is stamped with the moods of Manhattan … and the flavors of the mid-1970s, and yet it seems … delightfully and commandingly strange. And it reads, like all the best novels do, as both the encapsulation of private, urgent experience and a radical, inscrutable transformation of the same.” —The Los Angeles Review of Books“People often say of New York, whenever you look up at the buildings, you’ll see something remarkable. You could say the same thing of the quality of the writing in The Gargoyle Hunters.… What is perhaps most striking—and visible on every page … is just how accomplished and sophisticated Gill’s writing is.” —Omnivoracious: The Amazon Book Review​"Poignant, terrifying, funny and beautifully written, it unfolds like a Greek tragedy, smashing narrative anchored to the bedrock of New York City history." —Gannett New Jersey (USA Today network)​“For those who treasure the dappled beauty of New York’s early modern buildings, the plight to protect each cornice and filigree from the scourge of redevelopment is a rather high-stakes drama. It is simple, then, to grasp why The Gargoyle Hunters has been received with such delight.” —The New Criterion“Erudite, irreverent … With a fresh, wry narrative voice, Gill presents a vividly imagined slice of New York history, a quirky portrait of the 1970s and a tender father-son story--with plenty of gargoyles on the side.” —Shelf Awareness “Fast-paced … vividly portrayed … finely wrought … Gill’s affection for the city and the Seventies era is infectious.… The nail-biting, dramatic conclusion to the book … also includes a vertiginous trip to the tower atop the Woolworth Building for some misguided cultural preservation. If you suffer from vertigo skip this chapter. Its realistic description of dicing with death on the 53rd floor is not for the fainthearted.” —The Tribeca Trib“Shortly into Gill’s captivating and exuberant novel, one realizes that architectural crimes are merely the backdrop. This is a story about all varieties of nostalgia. Formalized urban nostalgia, of course, of the kind that drives landmark preservation … but also the constant pining for recognizable moments in a person’s life, both for the pleasures of our childhood and for the relationships that once held us in safety.… The novel [is] filled with charming and very specific anecdotes of teenage exuberance and wistful remembrance, dotted along the corridors of 1970s New York that you can almost follow along with on a dusty map.” —The Bowery Boys"John Freeman Gill’s delightful, bittersweet story brings a lost metropolis of faded grandeur and raffish charm to brief, wondrous life." —The Barnes & Noble Review“Funny and touching… In much the same way that Donna Tartt and J. D. Salinger capture the city in their stories, Gill has made New York City one of his most vivid main characters. In mordant prose, he has taken a wrecking ball as much to the human heart as he has to the priceless gems of the city’s past.” —Mary Morris, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award–winning author of The Jazz Palace"In turns quirky and cunning, naïve and knowing, achingly sad and subtly comic Gill conjures visuals that will fill your mind and family drama that will haunt you, a combination that leaves you longing to experience Griffin’s lost New York." —The Nervous Breakdown"Zounds. The Gargoyle Hunters is one amazing novel about fatherhood, obsession, and of course, gargoyles." —Caroline Leavitt, New York Times best-selling author of Is This Tomorrow“Fans of Richard Russo will appreciate the complex dynamic between needy, young Griffin and his father, whose breezy affability masks profound, even abusive, flaws.… The Gargoyle Hunters is an absorbing family tale and a wise meditation on aging.” —BookPage"Delightfully readable." —DuJour magazine