(Shropshire, EN: Platypus Press, 2020)
I discovered Joseph Fasano, author of the new novel The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing, as a poet. A few years back, I read some of his verse, and more recently I heard him reciting poems, both his and others, on his Instagram account, which birthed his “Poem for You” series during the pandemic. Despite the oceans of poetry to be heard on the internet, I was immediately enchanted by Fasano’s recitations. From the timbre of his voice to the delicate decays and attacks surrounding each caesura, his readings have been treasured moments during difficult days. He is a contemporary writer who understands the role of sonic qualities in literature. I share this, in part, because although I’ve never had a conversation with Fasano by voice, when I read his breathtaking debut novel, I cannot help but hear the words in my head as if the author were reading them out loud.
As I began to read The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing, I was both thrilled and a little nervous. At times, I find myself challenged by the language of contemporary novels, how it sometimes seems to be an afterthought to plot, character development, and other facets of long-form fiction. Based on Fasano as a poet, and on my aural experience of his storytelling through verse, my expectations were high. This novelist, however, upholds the promises of his poet heart for his readers. His masterful language quivers and soars even amidst the necessary density of his prose, a thickness which mirrors and illustrates the depths and complexities, the relentless beauty and unforgiving dangers, of the forested mountain range in which the story takes place.
From the start, Fasano’s imagery is breathtaking. Alliteration lulls us to pause, calls us to join the protagonist in his world, taking note of “pine trunks laden with lichen.” He makes the existence of a young boy, the main character’s son, in these woods sing out through the musicality of his diction, through slant rhyme and assonance: “The rifle hung on his back with the moon still in its oil, his tall boots shimmering with dew.” Moreover, Fasano’s metaphors are lapidary. In the novel’s third paragraph, he writes, “Night still hung in the spruces like bucks swinging by their antlers toward the river.” This is a clause that could stand alone as its own sparse poem, should Fasano have wished.
Thank that which is good, however, that Fasano persevered to write this cohesive novel, one that allows us to look “up into the belly of the mountain.” The book reminds us that this world is much larger than we will ever be. It also encourages us to play within words, and within thought, to better understand ourselves, our needs, our grief, and our desires. We will never understand, but we must also try to understand, even in moments of despair, such as the deaths of the protagonist’s most beloved.
I first read this novel a few months back, and I still sometimes wake in the night thinking about the tragedies surrounding the protagonist’s nine-year-old boy, attacked by a mountain lion during a father-son wilderness expedition, and an exquisitely deep paternal tenderness. For example, about a meal during their journey, the father recalls the following: “The beans were already too much, but we loved them and needed the nourishment, and when he tilted the can back to his mouth and knocked on the bottom with his mitten, I knew I would never say no to him. I knew I would carry him over this land if we were in trouble.” Perhaps especially through his illustrations of the boy and his father, Fasano demonstrates his mastery in the nuance of character development, proves himself an excellent novelist in addition to poet.
The protagonist’s late wife, a ballet dancer forced to retire due to injury, has passed away before the novel begins. A moment I return to again and again is at the ballet: “when we sat in the mezzanine she’d clasped both my hands, lifting her heels slightly when the prima struggled.” This is one of the carefully romantic yet delicately heart-wrenching moments of the novel. While at other times this character does not feel quite as vivid as the others, my experience of her is perfect, nonetheless. We encounter her through flashbacks recalled by the protagonist alone, and these scenes feel, in part, like a demonstration of what fades from our memories over time—regardless of the depths of our affections and the strength of our intentions. Moreover, perhaps what my messy heart is meant to witness is not the wife herself but her husband’s affections for her, which amplify his grief as he traverses the deep mountains of British Columbia. As he hunts a legendary mountain lion, he addresses his own agonizing pain, and there is no doubt that this woman and their son are the true loves of this character’s beautiful yet devastating life.
Fasano is also the author of four collections of poetry, The Crossing, Vincent, Inheritance, and Fugue for Other Hands, each exceptional book published by Cider Press Review. I have deep faith that Joseph Fasano’s debut novel, The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing, published by Platypus Press, will be showered in the accolades it so truly deserves. Moreover, during what has been a painful year for many, this novel is a quiet, hopeful reminder: “Morning comes to make the wild night say it gives.”
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Heather Lang, recently chosen as Clark County, Nevada’s Poet Laureate, holds an MFA in Poetry with a Certificate in Literary Translation. In 2017 she was named Las Vegas’ Best Local Writer or Poet by the readers of KNPR’s Desert Companion, and her poems have been published by The Normal School, North American Review, Pleiades, South Dakota Review, and many other literary journals. She serves as World Literature Editor for The Literary Review, Faculty Advisor for 300 Days of Sun, and Editor-in-Chief for Tolsun Books. At Nevada State College, Heather teaches Creative Writing, World Literature, and more.