Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Grrrrr.... gritty, grimy and grisly...

Three words that quite appropriately describe "The Missionary and the Brute".

I wanted to set this novel - not only in an interesting locale that appealed to me - but also in a harsh natural reality that is unsullied by the nicety of illusory fairy tale optimism. Which is not to say that there is not a ray of hope that runs - sometimes literally - through this story, but rather that it is grounded so much in naturalism that it stays real. Thus giving that fleeting hope more resonance and poignancy.

For me, I view "The Missionary and the Brute" like one of those grand Caravaggio paintings depicting Biblical events. At the time they were painted, to add verisimilitude, Caravaggio reportedly had gravediggers bring him cadavers on which to model his characters. Some of the critics of his day recoiled that he could use the dead to paint images of the Saints, but the depiction of the minutiae of detail such as dirt beneath the fingernails was of such a delicate reality that it - to me (and many others) seemed to lift the artwork to an even higher realm. I got to see his paintings up close once in a traveling exhibit of Vatican artwork - and it blew me away - even moreso than the Michelangelo's or Raphael's that were also displayed. It was one of the great artistic events of my lifetime - right up there with seeing Marcel Marceau perform and hearing Maya Angelou speak.

One of my favorite film directors is David Lynch. If you know of David you know that in life he is a blissful, gentle soul - steeped in peace and reflective calm - yet his films have an exceedingly dark, gritty subtext that seems to fly in the face of this serenity yet in the context of his art is truly reflected within it. "Blue Velvet" and "The Elephant Man" are indeed gritty, grimy and grisly - and even Twin Peaks had moments of sheer naturalism - (Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, laid out in the morgue for example) but there is a surreal and intense beauty within the context of all that as well.

Beauty heightened by grime.

I hope that I have achieved something like that with this novel. (Not as masterfully transcendent obviously but on my own microcosmal scale.) The natural grit of "The Missionary and the Brute" is spilled deliberately and with much forethought across a structural landscape of a grand ethos. Hopefully that elevates the narrative to grand effect.

A couple of years ago I got to know Anne Rice a bit - right around the time she stopped writing the Vampire chronicles when many of her legion of fans were recoiling in horror at the prospect of her writing only Christian themed works henceforth. Unlike a lot of her fans, I told her that I really didn't see the two as endemically discontinuous. Her "Christ the Lord" novels have an earthiness to them (gritty, grimy and grisly) that is natural and real and filled with that feathery dust of humanity as we see it, while her vampire novels (and witches and mummies and all) had a moral structure beneath the surface that was ultimately consistent and good. Dear Anne agreed, but was much saddened that not all her beloved readers saw it that way.

In either case, to me her writing had a lyricism that is rarely seen in a popular work. In my small way - I aspire to the same.

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