Walter has found salvation in God, but he returns home from years in prison to a familiar damnation he cannot escape; his wife, Margaret, and her brother, Mr. Vegas, molded Walter into a relentless sexual predator to help fulfill their fantasies of debauchery and terror. Now, a tantalizing young girl walks by Walter’s house every day, and he struggles with a parole officer who is obsessed with the crimes Walter was never charged with. Together, these tragic figures must confront the secrets of a bloodsoaked history to save their souls from the corruption that has tainted Walter’s family-and all those who are drawn into the darkness.
From Detroit, Michigan, Vincenzo Bilof has been called “The Metallica of Poetry” and “The Shakespeare of Gore”. He likes to think Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and Charles Baudelaire would be proud of his work. More likely, Ed Wood would have been his biggest fan.
Vincenzo is the author of several novels, including the Zombie Ascension series, and his latest-a speculative-fiction satire-Vampire Strippers from Saturn. A novel written as a collection of poems, The Horror Show, is another one of his nonsensical works.
I have to confess to having some difficulty figuring out how to approach this review. It’s a different animal than anything I’ve reviewed before, hell even than anything I’ve read before. Which is basically synonymous with saying it’s written by Vincenzo Bilof. Fortunately for me, Vincenzo himself shared a guest essay last week that inadvertently provided me with an entry point for telling you about this wonderful book.
You never know what’s going to spew forth from the mind of Vincenzo Bilof. He’s written of zombies, he’s written creature feature type horror, he’s written bizarro, and most recently, he wrote a book called The Violators (my review is here) that defies any kind of categorizing at all. That book showed me that, in addition to being eclectic when it comes to his artistic leanings, he’s also an exceptionally intelligent young author. Visions of a Tremulous Man serves to further cement that previous statement.
Visions of a Tremulous Man is Bilof’s second novel in poetry form, but it’s the first novel as poetry that I’ve ever read so I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. In his guest essay, The Unraveling of the Poetic Mind, Vincenzo compared this work and his other similar work, The Horror Show, with concept albums like Pink Floyd’s The Wall, and that’s a pretty apt comparison and a good way to give you an idea of what it is. It’s a poetry collection that runs along a thematic thread that, when pieced together forms a full blown story.
“Cracking months devour flowers
child scream wallpaper coefficients
Left knuckle breathes,
they asked him why his face was a pancake
they asked him why his garden burned
secrets beneath ice cream caravans
box full of tiny eyes
“hello, this is Walter, please leave a message”
and there is no message.”
The above passage begins a celebration of language that is both rare and delightful when found in the literature of the twenty-first century. As with The Violators, this unique and engaging book took me by surprise with it’s originality and the pure creative brilliance behind it. In all of his work, Vincenzo Bilof demonstrates an obvious love and mastery of the written word, and it’s on display in full technicolor here.
I was somewhat lost going into this and it took me awhile to pick up the thread of the story running throughout it but the use of language carried me along until I got accustomed to the flow and things started to come together for me. But here’s the thing about it. When you go into it, read it as what it is first and foremost, poetry. I became aware of the story Bilof builds here when I abandoned my attempts at understanding. And here’s another thing about it. If you do approach it as a collection of poetry rather than a unified fictive creation, you’ll enjoy the hell out of it even if you never gain an understanding of the story itself.
Which brings me to that thing I always do in my reviews: tell you what really makes it work and makes it a worthwhile reading experience. In this case I’ve already mentioned it once, but allow me to further expound. Vincenzo Bilof is a master wordsmith. His relationship with the English language and it’s application to modern literature is a deep and abiding one and he practices his art with both courage and abandon. The story in Visions of a Tremulous Man is told from multiple points of view, making it both unique and engaging. First, there’s Walter, a convicted sexual predator who found God in prison.
“Nobody has to hurt
tongue rolled teeth
lips soaked in tongue
teeth like buildings, skyscrapers
I don’t look into your eyes but your mouth
I can see it, the girl
pieces of me bled into those girls
pieces of me bled in prison
I could see shards in porcelain
cell block cracks, cold iron
mirror is full of you
even in showers of pain
mouthful of water against the tile
pushing me, pushing me,
Scarlet was the second girl’s name wasn’t it
pushing me, pushing me.”
If you pay close attention to these passages I’m sharing, you might notice one of the strikingly original features of this work. Bilof’s poetic voice changes whenever the story’s viewpoint changes. Here’s the detective, who’s convinced that Walter has committed many–much more heinous–crimes that he wasn’t convicted of because he couldn’t be tied to them:
“Nobody nags, ha ha ha,
Pig pen, little Piggy
Television glow, projection tube,
they call it
Maybe I should get up, go to work,
Make phone calls. Drink
The list. My list.
I’ll watch cigar smoke scar my home
If I still had a wife,
Thoughts. No. What.
Maybe call. New person on the list.
If I don’t know a name
There isn’t a name, there isn’t a name
A face, a crime,
a face, a victim.
Maybe victims. Victims?
Where’s my cape and haircut?
They haven’t fit
since my first day on the job.”
This vocal shift happens with every character change, from those two mentioned above to Walter’s wife Margaret and her brother Mr. Vegas, the two twisted souls who intentionally molded Walter into the predator that he is. Here’s one more example, this time from Margaret:
“Let’s see how babies born of rape
You think my woman’s body
with father in the room
put her on the stairs and watch
blood rivers the stairwell
fifteen and a whore
allow this education
so nice to let my brother go first
Walter stand by Father and observe
he came all this way
my brother came inside her again
miscarriage in the afternoon with coffee in the kitchen
Walter do you think you would have had a son
but that’s okay, my womb
has been a fair playground
I know what she felt like
but she was a coward.”
All this leads me to another thing that permeates all of Vincenzo Biliof’s work and makes it special. The inside of his mind is a strange and wonderful place and he’s not afraid to let it spill it’s colors onto the page. He has one of the brightest and most vivid imaginations I’ve encountered since Bradbury and it informs and reinforces the foundations of every book he writes, making it something memorable, dark, and beautiful. Bilof is an author with a legion of voices inside him and everything he publishes comes as a surprise because it’s always something fresh and distinctive.
I think a lot of people turn away from work like this because of the stigma that surrounds anything poetic. It’s expected to be academic and boring. This is a sad thing because it just isn’t true of most poetry and it damn sure isn’t true of Visions of a Tremulous Man. If you’re wondering if this book is worth your time, or if it’s something you should take a chance on, the answer is a resounding hell yes. Vincenzo doesn’t know how to do boring or uninteresting and I’ll read anything the guy writes. I’ve already got most of his books in my possession, either on my Kindle or in my review stack next to my desk and I’m going to devour every single one of them as time allows. You should follow those links below and do the same.