Delving into Darkness

I want to preface by saying that this book is definitely not for everyone.

Nick Cave’s debut novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, fell into my hands two years ago.  Knowing Nick Cave primarily as a musician, I found myself hesitant to even read the book, due to some strange, mutant fear that if I didn’t care for the book, somehow I wouldn’t enjoy his music as much.  I persevered.  And when I came out on the other side, And the Ass Saw the Angel emerged as one of my favorite novels.

The story is told from the perspective of Euchrid Eucrow, an outcast mute born to an alcoholic mother and a deranged, violent father in a fictional Deep South hamlet called Ukulore Valley.  Euchrid’s tale is one of a descent into madness, only aided by his inability to verbally communicate with others.  The insanity of his family and of the people of Ukulore Valley coupled with the incredible violence he deals with on a daily basis results in his silent trauma.  The novel is a record of Euchrid’s spiral into insanity, and it isn’t pretty.

Euchrid, deep in his lunacy, ultimately concocts the notion that his existence serves a divine purpose as Ukulore Valley implodes around him, violence abound, stricken by a three-year rain from a vengeful, Old Testament God (elements of magical realism such as this pepper the novel).  He experiences angelic visions and bears witness to the murder of Cosey Mo, a prostitute who is the only person to have ever been sympathetic toward him, by Ukulore Valley’s cult-like religious fanatics.  Using his perceived divine purpose as a conduit, Euchrid plans his vengeance against the people of Ukulore Valley who have made his existence so tortured.

To return to my preface, there are some peculiarities regarding this book that result in the novel being deeply loved or vehemently despised.  It is a dark, avant-garde novel that is both gruesome and beautiful.  The most striking is the way the novel is written:  in Euchrid’s mental Southern drawl (thus, “I” becomes “ah”; “my” becomes “mah”; etc.).  It’s a bit difficult to get used to, as is Euchrid’s vocabulary, which is an amalgamation of country slang and Biblical formality:

The sky, like mah scalp, tightened.  It had taken on the look of a vast membrane that stretched itself, like peeled skin, across the valley to form a roof, sealing in the stuffed light.  It teemed with a network of intumescent red vessels, tested to capacity by their booming blood.

A frying-pan made a final crashing protest and flew off its hook and into the roaring air, landing at mah feet and spinning like a top on the spot, describing with its long, bent handle a near-perfect circle in the dust around its pan, as if it were claiming the territory within as its own.  Its face stared darkly into mine.

Make no mistake:  this book is a challenge, as gruesome and dark as it is beautiful.  It’s a Gothic story of relentless hopelessness, but it’s well-worth seeing through to the end.

Note:  In the coming weeks, I’ll also be writing about Nick Cave’s recently released second novel to see how it stacks up to And the Ass Saw the Angel.

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