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Thoughts on Big Sid's Vincati

Big Sid's Vincati: The Story of a Father, a Son, and the Motorcycle of a Lifetime swerves through the compelling emotional landscape of a particular father and son whose relationship is altered by a motorcycle. That machine is a Vincati, half British Vincent and half Italian Ducati.

The narrative tells how the father, Big Sid, one of the best motorcycle tuners in the world, and his son Matthew, a university literature professor, close the distance between them over a project  to help Sid regain interest in life after a heart attack.“ It all feels unreal, as if I am talking to a dead man about a dream,” the author writes about his campaign, but he convinces his father to build the motorcycle with him.

  Biberman paints realistic portraits of his family, and portrays its complexities –a strained marriage, a sick baby, a legacy of crushed dreams and poor substitutions-–unflinchingly. In precise, full- bodied language, he renders the slow lurch of bonding between father and son. We wonder if the motorcycle will start, and if the men will ever overcome their differences. One of the most poignant passages records the son’s realization that his father’s questions about his work as a scholar have more to do with the old man's own thwarted dreams and dashed intellectual potential than an evaluation of his son’s standing in the world.

Dualities -- father against son, a life of the mind against a talent for machines, speed and freedom against the moment the helmet comes off and the rider is once again human – all these give the narrative texture, as does the portrait of redemption born out of obsession.

Matthew Biberman has accomplished the impossible with this book, in my opinion. Big Sid’s Vincati speaks to all kinds of readers, and condescends to none. The author's craftsmanship is seamless, and he wears his learning lightly, never straining for the grand metaphor or moral conclusion. In that, I believe, he stands alone. Pirsig and Crawford, eat your hearts out.