The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing is without a doubt a refreshment, a story not important what about, but important how it is told. It is misleading in the beginning, a story that appears to be about a father and son bonding in the hunt for a mountain lion. But it turns out to be about much more than that.
Slowly, we dive into the world of the wilderness, the hunt, the search, but at the same time we gradually discover what happened before the beginning of our story. We discover the sad, very emotional and very painful love between the narrator and the wife. The love they had for each other and for their son as well. The main character’s own childhood hunt is visibly connected to the story. His own hunt with his violent, abusive father, their quest for the lion they never managed to catch. A connection to his previous trauma and his previous both good and bad childhood memories. We discover what really happened to the wife and to the son and we come to understand why he is the continuing hunt—a necessity. It all adds up, it all flows into one place, into one time; the place and time of the hunt, the wilderness, and the mountain lion. Nature is the symbol and the locus of it all: the trauma, the sadness, the bad memories, the tragedies that followed. It is at the same time a place and a problem that needs to be resolved, to be dealt with.
Told in the first person, our narrator is the father, but as the story slowly unveils, it discovers the truth behind the characters and the tragedy behind and before our story. The narration is slow, delicate, and minutely told. The style is unique, purposely open to interpretation, vague, and ambiguous.
What immediately drew me to The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing was that it was written by a poet. That fact can go both ways: the end result can be kitschy, overdone, tacky, unbearably sweet or the poetry in the author can make the prose poetic, beautiful, different.
Luckily, it was the latter case. The novel is poetic in a creative way, you can feel the lyricism in every description, character, and the story itself. I was hoping for something different than the usual and that is exactly what I got. A wonderfully flowing text, filled with emotions, a treat for all the senses: you can hear and see the nature around the narrator, you can feel the narrator’s grief, you can taste his thirst and bask in his victory he won over himself. Such an intimate novel, relaying everything it was meant to relay, not only through words but through feelings as well. I enjoyed reading it, living with the characters through the novel and reading the last lines, ending the novel, making it a whole. As if I was a part of that quiet but meaningful universe for a while.
“There are hymns in us, and the truest are a secret. There are fires in us, and fire was the beginning.
Whatever the end is, it is not for us. Tell me that beginning is our mystery. Tell me what the end is, and you lie. The silence was wildfire in the darkness.”
The novel is filled with intrinsic sadness, hurt and pain that is visible from the very beginning. You read on and still cannot understand why sadness is present in every word. You read and wait. Wait for something tragic to happen, and it does. And then it happens again.
The character of the wife and mother is especially disturbing. She fills the novel with unease, premonitions of bad outcomes, bad dreams, superstitions, regrets, and hallucinations.
True gems in this novel are the detailed nature descriptions. Nature in this novel—wild, untamed, dark—is a character on its own. Fluffy sweet birds and the dangerous, ominous mountain lion are part of the menagerie.
The lion is the symbol of the quest; the father’s vengeance and his duty. The lion is a Moby Dick-like figure, that, in the end, turns out to be something completely different. Innocent, wild, and unknown, but at the same time almost human and gentle but rough. The lion is something that had nothing to do with our narrator’s tragedy, another world, another universe from our narrator’s life and troubles.
“He asked himself to the great stars and the darkness; he asked himself to the things he broke and what broke him; he asked himself to the silence of the wild skies. And asking itself was an answer.”
What is worse, vengeance or indifference? Can either of them help with pain and loss? What is the right way, what should he do to be able to move forward, to live, to have a future of any kind? Kindle his hate towards the lion, continue his quest or accept it all and not caring about anything any more.
The quest for the lion is in a way a purification of all the bad that had happened in the past. A way of healing, an admittance of problems, trauma, sadness. A path to health. A self imposed psychiatric treatment. It shows us that there is a way that we can help ourselves, maybe not heal ourselves, but help ourselves to at least feel better and continue living on.
“If vengeance lives outside of time, lives where all things live that mean nothing, then I knew it could wait in me.”
This is a novel about sadness, revenge, getting on with the world, dealing with pain, loss, and grief, about moving on, but moving on in the best possible way. The true way, not just managing to hang on, but understanding the world by not understanding it and still staying in it. We have to come to understand that we are a part of the world, that the world is not a part of us, we have to join it, not expect happiness or closure from it.
We are powerless over our future, our destiny, we cannot control anything nor know what is to come, we can only decide to live in it, to accept it enjoying the beauty of the world.
This novel wants to be that exactly–life itself: hard, sad, confusing at times, but a thing of true beauty.
“The wild song that is not for us, and is endless. And that has not come into this burning would to save us. Or to be saved. Or to tell us what’s to come.”
The Dark Heart of Every Wild Thing
By Joseph Fasano
272 pages. 2020.