Southern gothic: bitter tale of insularity, resignation, occasionally
of redemption; mastered by the likes of noted Southerners William
Faulkner, Carson McCullers, Flannery O'Connor. Attempted here by--
Nick Cave, frontman and lyricist for the alternative rock band The Bad
Seeds, paints a portrait of the American South as dark and disturbing
as any I've seen. And the Ass Saw the Angel, Cave's first novel,
is an hypnotically poetic tale of pain and madness, Vonnegutian in its
early black humor and its barely-there plot.
And the Ass Saw the Angel tells the story of Euchrid Eucrow, a mute
born to a viciously abusive drunken mother and a father obsessed with
cruel traps and animal torture. An outcast in a valley of rigidly
conservative religious sectarians, Euchrid bears silently his mother's
beatings, his father's inturned indifference, and the hatred and
loathing of an entire town. But while Euchrid's tongue may be silent,
his increasingly fractured mind teems with words and his own horrible
angelic visions. Raised to inevitable madness in this closed-off
little world of inbreeding, moonshine and fanaticism, Euchrid will
exact his terrible vengeance on the people who have made his life one
of nearly unrelenting pain.
Cave's style is quite obviously that of a songwriter, full of rhythms
and refrains that are the echoes of a young cripple's madness. And the
Ass Saw the Angel is blackly beautiful, powerful and sharp. That
isn't to say that it's without flaws. Occasionally words from a more
British dialect jar the reader out of the story's South -- "torch" for
flashlight, "bonnet" for a car's hood, "lorry" for truck. Still, the
writing compels. The very dark humor in the book's early half becomes
ever darker, until by the book's end you laugh seldom, and then only as
a defensive measure, to keep up some thin barrier between yourself and
Euchrid's lonely rage and pain. If you read this, you might want to have
something a little lighter waiting on your bookshelf to balance the black.
And the Ass Saw the Angel, not for the faint of heart, is troubling,
powerful and well worth the read.