Vincent by Joseph Fasano
Cider Press Review, 2015; 88 pp
Reviewed by Michael Levan
Joseph Fasano’s Vincent overflows with the kind of beautiful imagery and dazzlingly complex similes that makes it a book difficult to put down, which is all the more remarkable considering it is a book-length, one-sentence poem. It also happens to be told through the voice of a tortured, infamous murderer.
Vincent is a fictionalized look into the mind of Vince Li, the man who without provocation killed and decapitated a fellow bus passenger in Canada in July 2008. We get this information from the book’s epigraph and it never quite disappears from our attention, making it all the more difficult to reconcile the horror of the act and the delicate and strange and haunting way Vincent sees the world.
Fasano’s ability to capture the fragmented perspective of this killer is unsettling particularly because so much of what he writes gets us deeper and deeper inside Vincent’s head. We start to become hypnotized by the images and the rabbit-hole similes, which pile one on top of the other and push us further into his world:
I don’t know is it like a silence
like your father’s belt
on your bedspread like
a hangman breathing
on your forearms
is it like being lobotomized by moonlight
by a splinter of a holy cradle
is it like burning a magician’s cape
like the hairs of your idiot twin
pressed in a book
We rely on words to help give our lives order, but Fasano’s Vincent has no such ability to connect to the world. He is desperate to find the right way to describe what he senses, only to find that all he has are questions or approximations for his experiences. He can never come to the perfect simile or metaphor, nor can he entirely escape his (over-)reliance on anaphora to help him make meaning because to lose faith in language means to lose what makes him a person. It’s when Vincent turns more frequently to mathematical equations and binary codes that we know he has lost touch with his humanity and committed the horrifying deed. They’re subtle but effective moves by Fasano.
His ability to control the book/poem/sentence’s pacing is exemplary too. Because of the long, winding nature of the book, we have to read slowly and carefully to maintain a sense of proper syntax, which makes it easy to be swept away by the writing’s terrible beauty. Whether we want to or not, we end up feeling sympathy, if not empathy, for Vincent as we experience how troubled he is.
Vincent is not the kind of book that should compel anyone to take a long bus ride any time soon (sorry, Greyhound), but Fasano’s precision and magnetism under such, shall we say, unusual conditions absolutely make this a must-read.