A love letter to a vanishing city, and a deeply emotional story of fathers and sons, John Freeman Gill’s debut novel The Gargoyle Hunters does for the vividly crumbling New York of the 1970s what Doctorow’s World’s Fair did for the New York of the 1930s.
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 nimible, Griffin is charged with stealing exuberantly expressive 19th-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 craftsmen during the city’s architectural glory days, are an endangered species, hundreds of them consigned each month to the landfill in an era of sweeping urban renewal.
Desperate both to forge a connection with his father and to generate income from gargoyle sales so that his father can make the mortgage payments on the brownstone where Griffin lives with his mother and sister, he 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 Griffin’s mother as well as 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 must be let go. Maybe loss, he reflects, is the only thing no one can ever take away from you.
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From the Hardcover edition.