I am pleased to bring you the new book by an author I discovered thanks to Rosie’s team, and one that always manages to make me pause and think.
Cenotaphs by Rich Marcello
AFTER A CHANCE MEETING, AN OLD MAN AND A MIDDLE-AGED WOMAN CHART AN UNCONVENTIONAL PATH FORWARD.
When Ben Sanna, a contemplative retiree with a penchant for helping people, and Samantha Beckett, a secretive New York City hedge fund manager, meet by chance in a small Vermont town, they enter into a tenuous relationship. Over several weeks, Samantha and Ben open their pasts inch by inch, sift through their futures consciously, and come to terms with the strength and depth of their bond. A meditation on redemption told in alternating chapters of musings and scenes, Cenotaphs is about platonic love; the ways we close ourselves off in reaction to pain and what happens when we open ourselves up again; and the deep, painful legacy of loss.
Praise for Cenotaphs
“Cenotaphs is a beautiful, timely, powerful novel. I read it slowly, savoring each scene. Its elegance, intelligence, poignancy, and humanity remind me of Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.”—Mark Spencer, author of An Untimely Frost
“Cenotaphs is a masterful, moving meditation on loss and moving forward, and on the possibility of transcendence. But it’s the characters and their voices that will keep haunting me, so much so that I know readers will return to them time and again, as if they’re long lost members of a family.”––Rebecca Givens Rolland, author of On the Refusal to Speak
“Cenotaphs is an achingly poignant tale of love and loss, and for its protagonist Ben, how the two are intimately intertwined. In the course of this short novel, classic betrayal and unfathomable loss birth the most unexpected platonic love, and in doing so, show us the power of forgiveness. Marcello’s writing is elegant and lyrical and through a complex web of extremes, Cenotaphs cleverly reminds us that nothing is meant to last forever.”––Mark E Sorenson, author of A Restaurant in Jaffa
“. . .The Latecomers blends humor, suspense, and poetic prose while tackling big issues like graceful aging, chosen families, corporate ethics, personal fulfillment, and the unending quest for self-discovery, and brims with philosophical depth about the world and life’s possibilities.“—Indie Reader Approved––IndieReader
“Every once in a while, we get to read books that change how we see life. Rich Marcello brought such change in his literary novel, The Beauty of the Fall. This is for readers who love an intellectual read with profound life lessons and a host of inspiring characters.”––The Online Book Club
“While The Big Wide Calm can rightly be called a coming-of-age story, it is also very much a tale of a young woman who discovers how to truly love. . .Well-written, thought-provoking, and filled with flawed characters, it meets all the basic requirements for best-of-show in the literary fiction category.”––The US Review of Books
“The Long Body that Connects Us All is a powerful collection of poetry. If you want to think and feel about your life and future, read this book alongside a box of tissues. In sharing his poetry, which reads like a memoir, Marcello has really written on elements of the human condition that do connect us all. Rating: 5 out of 5 ––The Book Review Directory
Rich is the author of five novels, The Color of Home, The Big Wide Calm, The Beauty of the Fall, The Latecomers, and Cenotaphs, and the poetry collection, The Long Body That Connects Us All. He also teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges’ Writer Collaborative. Previously, he enjoyed a successful career as a technology executive, managing several multi-billion dollar businesses for Fortune 500 companies.
As anyone who has read Rich’s work can tell you, his books deal with life’s big questions: love, loss, creativity, community, self-discovery and forgiveness. His novels are rich with characters and ideas, crafted by a natural storyteller, with the eye and the ear of a poet. For Rich, writing and art making is about connection, or as he says, about making a difference to a least one other person in the world, something he has clearly achieved many times over, both as an artist, a mentor, and a teacher.
Rich lives in Massachusetts with his wife and Newfoundland Shaman. He is currently working on his sixth and seventh novels, The Means of Keeping and In the Seat of the Eddas, a follow-on to The Latecomers.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author, whom I met thanks to the team, for this opportunity and for the ARC copy of the book.
I have read two of Marcello’s novels, The Beauty of the Fall and the Latecomers, and I have quickly become an admirer of his books, as he combines a lyrical and poetic style of writing with a choice of subjects that transcend the usual genre novel and look deep into the souls and minds of his characters.
This novel is not heavy on plot or action (some things happen, of course, and there are references to pretty major events that took place before, although I won’t spoil the novel for future readers). It is primarily about relationships between all kinds of people. The primary relationship we learn about is the one between Ben, a retired man who leads a pretty quiet life in a cabin in Vermont and spends his time sharing his advice and wisdom with others, and Sam, a thirty-something hedge fund manager who spends most of her time travelling and conversing with strangers. They meet by chance and quickly realise that there is a connection between them. Although in appearance they are as different as could be, they come to realise that they share some experiences and feelings. They both feel guilty of something that happened to their families (they were both brought up in the Roman Catholic faith, although neither of them are followers of any official religion now), and they find companionship and comfort in each other. Their relationship confounds many, but although Platonic, they know they have found something special in each other and treasure it.
This book reminded me of some of my favourite French movies, especially Eric Rohmer’s, that made you feel as if you were a privileged witness to the conversations between two characters (or a few characters), as they slowly got to know each other and to discover that they were meant to be with each other (or sometimes, to be apart but to gain some important insight from their time together). This is a book of communing with nature, with your dog, of going fishing, of building a cenotaph, of stripping your life of unnecessary things and acknowledging what is truly important, and of understanding that you cannot heal from your emotional wounds by hiding your true self and pretending to be somebody else. People can help you along the way, but you have to come to accept your pain, your loss, your responsibility and, perhaps, if you’re lucky, meet somebody else and make amends.
It is difficult to talk about the genre of this book, because other than literary fiction, it doesn’t fit in nicely under any other category. There is romance, but not in the standard sense. It is not strictly a self-help book, because it is a fictional story, but I am sure it will inspire many readers. It deals in loss, grief, guilt, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and other self-destructive behaviours, but also in music, nature, friendship, family relationships, spirituality, religion, love, and the meaning of life. It even touches upon the paranormal and metaphysics, so anybody who likes to reflect, analyse, and dig into the depths of what makes us human could potentially be a good match for this book.
I wouldn’t say I quickly warmed to the two main characters. I was intrigued and puzzled by them, as it was clear that there were many secret motivations behind their behaviours and their actions, but slowly, as I learned about them, I came to understand them a bit better and to accept them as human beings (with all their faults and their gifts). Although we don’t learn that much about the rest of the characters, I quite liked Scott (terrible mistake and all) and would have liked to learn more about Marianne, one of Ben’s friends but not around when we meet him. Zeke, the dog, was quite a character, and I enjoyed the conversations between Ben, Sam, and all of Ben’s friends, so different but so happy to share and engage in serious debate.
I also loved the lyrical quality of the language and the many thoughts and phrases that made me stop and think. As usual, I’d advise people thinking about reading it to check a sample of the novel to see how they feel, but I’ll also share a few quotations I highlighted. Please, remember that I am reviewing an early copy, and there might have been changes in the final version.
An aspiration for old age: When the weight lifts, float up over all the love harmed, and marvel that something as healing as forgiveness exists at all.
Sometimes an undercurrent joins two people right from the start.
My greatest learning is this —love people exactly where they are, flaws and all, for as long as they grace your life. We don’t get do-overs, do we?
We never really fully understand another human being, do we, only the ways they touch us.
The story is narrated in the first person by both main characters, and if I had to highlight one of the things that got me a bit confused, it was the way the book was divided up. Who was narrating each part was clearly indicated, but there were several parts I and parts II throughout the book, and some ‘chapters’ with their own separate titles. I think part of the issue might be due to reading an ARC e-book copy and not having a clear idea of its structure, but later on, there is a development in the novel itself that helps to give this issue a totally different perspective. So, although the novel is written in the first person, and I know there are readers who don’t appreciate that, there is a good reason for the choice, and the quality of the writing is such that it should dispel any concerns. (The author sent me an up-to-date version of the e-book, and I can confirm that the issue I had with the format and the titles of the chapters seems to have been a problem with the early copy, so no need to worry).
I recommend this book to people who enjoy beautiful writing, who are looking for a different kind of story, one that makes you think, reflect and ponder, rather than turn the pages quickly to know what will happen next. To those who love to explore the reasons behind people’s behaviours, to look closely at their relationships, and to wonder about the meaning of life. And if you’ve never read any of the author’s books, you’re in for a treat and a delightful surprise. Don’t delay.
Thanks to the author and to Rosie and her team, thanks to all of you for writing, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling and safe. Big hugs!