Overall Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Together, we became the sunrise and the sunset, and all of the seasons. Together, we trusted old love again.”
I quickly fell in love with Rich Marcello’s writing as soon as I read The Latecomers, a book that I chose as one of my top 10 reads of 2020! Whilst Cenotaphs is similar in many ways, this book has something a little bit different, focusing on two unique characters with an unbreakable bond of intense love and a solid friendship. I’m so happy to be sharing my review of Marcello’s latest, another incredible triumph that will fill you with emotion and leave you pondering the meaning of life.
About the book
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.
Meeting and learning about Ben in this book felt such an honour. The exploration of his life and his personality in the first few pages was completely captivating and was described in such depth. In many places, I felt intense emotion as we learnt about things he’d been through; his wife leaving him, his children fleeing the nest and being far away from him with very little contact, his loneliness and his deteriorating health. The author’s words automatically drew me in just as much as they’d done with The Latecomers, and I instantly became firmly rooted into the story. If you’ve ever read anything by Rich before, you’ll know exactly what I mean! His words are so poetic and the way he brings you, the reader, right next to these characters is extraordinary. I loved just how this book is written too, with two different perspectives that gave the book such a unique quality.
It isn’t long before we meet Sam, a confident, strong-willed woman, who takes it upon herself to latch onto Ben and his friend, Scott, as they dine. This character instantly stuck in my head and she had a real spark to her, something that I really wanted to learn more about, as did Ben. We continue to learn more about Ben’s life in a way that’s so deep and empowering, as well as learn about a growing friendship between Ben and Sam, and it was a fascinating thing to experience. I became even more curious about how these two characters could help one another, be better people and live more fulfilled lives, and their fast-paced friendship seemed to push them both in the right direction. The author’s words continued to grip me, and Ben’s musings on the world and on life really provided so much enjoyment for me. The opening to the book was perfect, just as I’d predicted!
“I’m going to come back as cool, sweet rain, so when you look my way, I’ll wash the weight off your face.”
As much as I loved where the story was going and absolutely everything the author explores through each paragraph, I did think the pacing was a little too fast for me in parts. Sam confesses her love for Ben very quickly, and even though at this point, this love may not have been of the romantic kind, the pair hadn’t really known each other for long. I think I’d have liked to have savoured their relationship a little more and watched their relationship slowly grow through more meaningful conversations and general time together in each other’s company. However, this is only personal preference and didn’t take away my enjoyment of the book. Ben tries to make sense of his own feelings and emotions in such a way that it felt as though we readers were his crutch, people he could talk to about what was going on in his head. It felt so real, which just made the reading experience even more unforgettable.
The adoration Ben and Sam have for one another is so well portrayed, and as this grows, we get to see them open up to each other even more. Their bond runs much deeper than love and physical attraction, and even though this is such a complex mix of feelings and emotions, the author pulls it off with style and ease. Each scene written by the author all the way through the beginning of the story was enough to keep me invested until the very end, and I couldn’t wait to see exactly how he shaped these characters I was already so keen to learn more about. Ben and Sam were already such brilliantly developed characters, even so early on, and I knew they’d develop and grow further as time went by. A really great start to the book which gives us plenty to think about in the upcoming chapters.
It was simply delightful to follow Ben and Sam as their relationship strengthened. Everything from the description of those day-to-day mundane tasks to the many moments of deep, intimate conversation were just enthralling to me, and I couldn’t get enough of this bizarre, yet genuine relationship the pair had formed in such a short space of time. Ben and Sam speak about their past relationships, what joys they were in their own ways and how different any of these relationships were compared to how they felt about one another. However, I was particularly interested in learning how Marianne died, someone so close to Ben all those years ago. I really appreciated how he was able to tell Sam about this relationship, proving even further how strong of a bond the two shared. This was saddening to learn, and the sheer power of this chapter made me well up with tears.
I really enjoyed seeing Ben at work as he gives life and relationship advice to Alice, his friend’s niece, who is suffering in an abusive relationship. Not only was it great and so moving to hear just how selfless Ben is as he points her in the right direction, but seeing how Sam reacts to his close proximity with Alice, another woman, was a little amusing. Was she getting jealous? Were those deep feelings she held for Ben getting deeper and more profound? It felt like we’d hit another milestone in the story here, a crucial point of no return perhaps, and I was very curious to see how this changed things. What did their future look like now? It was interesting to compare their progress over time from when the two were complete strangers at the start of the book.
“I told her my stories freely, almost as if I’d been waiting to release them.”
Yet another emotional story comes to light of how Ben and his ex-wife, Emilia, parted ways and how their relationship broke down. The author is so incredibly talented in making you feel an abundance of emotions all at once, and again, created such powerful paragraphs that have you gripped to this character’s story. We begin to understand the reasoning behind why Ben isn’t close to his children as well as the lead up to the life he lived in the present day. Saddening, shocking and completely enthralling. I couldn’t help but wonder if Ben’s honesty could truly drive Sam away. Would it be too much for her? Could they ever connect in the same way as they had done previously? I couldn’t be sure, but I loved how the author keeps us guessing. It was interesting to see how the story progressed and I wondered whether things would change after learning these details.
For a while, I just knew there was more to Sam’s life story than we were given at first. There was something about her that made me think she’d experienced a lot in her life, and when the time comes for her to explain things to Ben, we get a whole lot more than we bargained for. Her story was raw and emotion-filled, and until this point, I didn’t quite realise how deep things would become. Marcello’s mind is such a marvellous thing, and I loved the stories of his characters just as much as I loved their present day selves. It was always so easy to put yourself in their shoes and the experience of learning so much about a single person was just remarkable. I wasn’t sure how the story would end, but I was desperate to see how Ben and Sam would be there for one another – surely they must after everything they’d shared!
Planning vows seemed to be the next logical step for Ben and Sam’s relationship, but getting their friends on board wasn’t the easiest of tasks. With so many questions about this decision, Ben questions a few things of his own, but soon settles on the fact that they share an unbreakable, deep bond. In the end, his friends come around, which even I appreciated; there’s nothing quite like that feeling when you get that much needed support from those closest to you, and this made me think about a few different things in life. The author had made Ben and Sam’s vow ceremony sound so beautiful and I could imagine every detail, and the vows themselves brought a tear to my eye, just like I was there to experience everything first hand. This story just continued to prove that in any form of relationship; romantic or not, age is just a number.
As the story comes to a close, there is one particular scene that I half knew was coming, but it was one that I was hoping I’d be wrong about. We focus heavily on Sam at this point and how she copes and attempts to overcome the difficult news, something that yet again made me feel so incredibly sad, even more so as she discovers a letter addressed to her. Even though the author forces the reader to experience such intense sadness, I also took away some positive lessons, and certain parts really had me thinking more about life and love than I have in a long time. The author’s words were flawlessly written once again, and each sentence was such a joy to read. I’ll always admire this author’s talent and way with words, something that will stick with me once again after reading this book.
“I’m not a big fan of hope and fear – hope because it’s often magical, fear because it often blinds. I prefer realistic optimism though sometimes I can’t help myself.”
After learning so much about Emilia, Ben’s ex-wife, throughout the book, it was good to read more about her and meet her properly for the first time, as well as see her and Sam converse with one another. In fact, I loved reading more about all the characters we’d met over time, and the author cleverly closes off each of their stories in a way that doesn’t give us every detail, but gives us enough to think about and keep us satisfied. The theme of the cenotaph is mentioned just enough throughout the story, but as we reached the end, I realised it really was the anchor keeping the theme of this story together, and I admired how this is revisited at the book’s end. The author continues to impress as the book comes together here, and I knew those final few pages would be just as unforgettable.
One of the ending chapters was very cleverly written from Ben’s perspective, and it felt as though I was sat face to face with him as he tells us what is worth living for. The lessons I’ve learned from Ben, not only in these ending chapters, but throughout the entire book, will certainly stay with me for a lifetime. Thinking about what’s important in life was something I mulled over for hours after finishing this book, and it really did come at the right time for me after having such a tough few months. As Sam gets the closure she needs and we’re given the final sentence, I felt so much love in my heart. Even after reaching the end, I definitely think this book will be one I’ll reach for in times of need. It provides endless food for thought, and is something you could probably take something different away from after each read through. A deeply enjoyable read!
I think I’ll always love Rich Marcello’s work, and Cenotaphs is yet another captivating story of love, loss and friendship in all its deep and varied forms. From his perfectly created characters to the way he covers the theme of love between two perfectly connected souls, this book is such a credit to this author, and is something that will stick with anyone who reads it! One character’s healing process after losing a loved one is so sincere in this book, and is something we can learn from and grow with. No matter how unusual the nature of this book is, the author’s talent for exceptional character development and a unique and engaging plot shines through, creating an experience that will be very difficult to erase.
A huge thank you to the author, Rich Marcello, for my copy of this book to read and review! You can purchase your own copy of Cenotaphs over on Amazon, available on Kindle and in paperback. Make sure you’re following the author over on Twitter and Instagram for more updates!