Thursday, May 10, 2012

Time of the Cataclysm Wolf-Baby

Having just finished Matt Bell's brand new novel(la?) "Cataclysm Baby" I must say that it is, after all, a true success.

I doubted so on The Road there, but as I progressed through the miring half-light, I went from disdain at the easy pickings of just creating stark creepy snippets to begrudgingly admiring his ability to control his relentlessly desolate texture with such surgical precision - yet texture alone does not the success make, in my ledger, be it fiction, cinema or music, no matter how sexy or groundbreaking or heart-shredding.  By the end, the one-too-many episodes of emotionally icy and despairing beauty mounting up or the grim humor I was sometimes able to connect between the episodes' baby names and their story content was still not what made me really like this work.

It was the aggregation of all the bits and pieces and the mastery on sum which with Bell paints a vital and visceral warning for us while intertwining the dread and fear-driven ignorance with love, sacrifice and compassion. It works the best for me as metaphor and allegory. When I was younger, the phantasmic fantastical textural creations would have been enough for me (and they are surprisingly similar to inspirations I used to use in musical collaborations) but nowadays that alone wouldn't cut it.

The figurative power of this work affects me in three ways - one is the tried and true post-apocalypse effect which evokes the now-cliche reaction "oh we never knew what we had until we threw it all away" (be that family, love, life, freedom, advanced civilization, or a functioning earth to live on). The second is simply as disturbing and riveting abstractions of child-rearing and parenting, of families and relationships.

But Cataclysm Baby most strongly works for me by pulling a clever little trick that one of my favorite directors Michael Haneke has up his sleeve and employs most skillfully in "Time of the Wolf" - he wants to make those of us living a relatively comfortable existence catch a true glimpse of the kind of lives some in this world lead by contriving an apocalypse (the explanation isn't even important and is typically omitted, as Bell does here) to plunge us into a horrorful other-life before we have a chance to censor any implication through our defensive filters. The dreaded Cataclysm is already here. But only for some.

In that sense, this observation may constitute spoilerage and if so I apologize after the fact. But this smallish gem is so convincing and urgent in its totality I personally feel the ploy enhances the magnitude and magic rather than undermines any enjoyment or lessons gleaned on the part of the reader. And if you end up snatched by its creeping scalpel claws as I was, I highly urge a thorough exploration of Haneke's filmography for dessert!

1 comment:

  1. Haneke wins at Cannes with his latest film