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And The Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave

Three crows circle overhead!
Someone told me this novel, now nearly thirty years old (holy crap), Nick Cave's first and, possibly, his best, began life as a screenplay when he was still touring with The Birthday Present. That seems equally plausible and implausible. It is a wildly cinematic novel, narrated in flashback by the hermetic mute boy Euchrid Eucrow, who slithered into the world as one of a pair of damaged twins, the only one who survives the neglect of their first day on earth, and is vividly, viscerally visual. But it's also complicated, wildly imaginative, and at heart, finds a safer and more permanent berth in the gently revered world of literature than in the ever-changing and perfidious zeitgeist of cinema.

The story goes that Euchrid, after throwing himself into a bog into which he slowly sinks as he narrates his tale (to whom? and how?), was born, mute and unloved, into a truly Southern Gothic existence, mother a moonshine drunk, father a mean, bitter animal trapper, his community a severe religious one in which he can find no sympathy or acceptance. His life is lived internally, his only communication is with God, who Euchrid believes has a divine plan for him, which involves the daughter of the town slattern, adopted by the nominal head of the local order and held up as some kind of chosen one by the town's coven-like elder matriarchs. His life wobbles through a spiral of abuse and hatred, toppling over into acts of violence and the impregnation of the empyrean pre-teen.

The Holy Spirit came upon them...

Regardless, the magic of this book, for it is magic, comes from a dark and wonderful manipulation of the imagination. In a wonderful essay written for BBC Radio Three in 1996*, he wrote:
Jesus said, "Wherever two or more are gathered together, I am in their midst." Jesus said this because wherever two or more are gathered together, there is communion, there is language, there is imagination, there is God. God is a product of a creative imagination, and God is that imagination taken flight. 
As a child I believed that to use the imagination was wicked. I saw my imagination as a dark room with a large bolted door that housed all manner of shameful fantasies. I could almost hear my secret thoughts bumping and scratching behind the door, begging in whispers to be let out, to be told. Back then, I had no idea that those dark mutterings were coming from God.
If this doesn't succinctly and wonderfully encapsulate pretty much everything that is good about And The Ass... then I don't think I could do so. Euchrid is ALL imagination, and as he communes with only himself, God is there in his midst. Even when he poisons the bum in the old church; even when he tortures his trapped animals to death, just like his father had done; even when he gets his 'bloodings' outside the girl's bedroom window at night; it's God who fills him with dark mutterings. He writes, "Just as we are divine creations, so must we in turn create. Divinity must be given its freedom to flow through us, through language, through communication, through language." Divinity can't flow freely through Euchrid.

It is a truly wonderful novel; dark and sour, terrible and horrific, a prose poem to the corrupted divinity of man, and a worthy addition to the corpus of the Americana of Faulkner and his contemporaries.

*Check it out in full here: http://www.nickcave.it/extra.php?IdExtra=44


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