Reviewed by Jaylynn Korrell
An intimate look at uncommon relationships and many shades of violence
Cenotaphs is an unlikely story that draws you in slowly and calmly, unaware that you’re being captured. Author Rich Marcello does a fantastic job of combining intense subject matter with introspective characters and inventive prose. This book is one that literary fans can love.
The main character, Benjamin, is a 70-something man who lives with his dog in a cabin in Vermont. After going through a divorce over 30 years ago, and the loss of one of his closest friends and companions just 10 years ago, he feels content to stick to his quieter way of life and retire from close relationships with women.
All of that changes when Sam, a 45-year-old New York businesswoman, takes a seat at his table in the local diner. What starts out as a bizarre intrusion by a gorgeous woman quickly turns into a weekend that will change both of their lives forever.
As they peel back the layers of hurt and grief built up over the years, they settle into a type of relationship that transcends titles, but most closely resembles family.
“I imagine being filmed close up as I read these pages out loud—head only—like in one of those foreign movies…That way, people will see I’m telling the truth.”
Ben is a lovable character, with his trusted wisdom and generally calm demeanor. This is probably the result of how simple and direct Marcello writes him to be. He gives us a chance to reflect and appreciate the honest nature of his character.
To no one’s surprise, Ben sidelines as the town listener, taking no money for his services and working exclusively on referrals. People come to him to hear themselves, and with the hope that venting to such a classic grandfather figure will allow their problems to be sorted. The advice Ben gives is simple, if he gives any at all. We get to feel the pull that each of these characters feels to tell them their deepest secrets.
Sam, on the other hand, is a windstorm. She comes rushing into this story in a way that at first feels a little ridiculous, interrupting two men’s lunch and intruding into the home of a literal stranger. Her behavior is erratic, spontaneous, and completely off the wall which makes her read a lot younger than mid-forties. With time though, Sam’s antics are mellowed out by Ben’s disposition and a closer look into her past.
One of the finest aspects of this novel is how it tackles the relationships between Ben and his old friend Marianne, and then his new friend Sam. Both of these relationships are fascinating follows, teetering between the lines of all possible relationships you can have with another person, so it’s hard to describe exactly where they both fall. There are sometimes physical attractions, sometimes not. Both bonds seem stronger than the one he created with his wife of two or three decades, built on trust, honesty, and friendship. Marcello kindly asks the reader to put aside their preconceived ideas of what a relationship can be, and to accept things as they are in this story. It’s a type of control I’m happy to give up during the reading of Cenotaphs.
I’d recommend this book to most people, as its length and subject matter make it an appealing piece to read straight through. Rarely can someone take on so many heavy topics and avoid sounding pretentious, but Marcello does just that.
Cenotaph’s main topics vary from lighthearted and sweet, to deeply unsettling and sometimes violent, so I’d give a trigger warning to people who don’t deal well with topics like gun violence and domestic violence. Still, the majority of this book feels like finding home.
Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing
Genre: Literary Fiction / Psychological
Print Length: 196 pages
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