September 26, 2023
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Book Reviews Fiction

Cenotaphs – There is no expiration date on healing a soul

Author: Rich Marcello

Genre: Contemporary – Fiction

Year Published: 2023

Nerdection Rating:

“Nerdection Must Read”


  1. A monument commemorating a person whose body is buried elsewhere.

Ben Sanna is a “wise, old man” known in his quaint town for adopting the role of uncertified psychologist. On what starts out as a day like any other, he meets Samantha—Sam—Becket, a hedge fund manager from the Big Apple at Hasman, Vermont’s local breakfast and lunch joint. She is provocative. She injects a power dynamic into their first encounter. Her words and body language are intended to intimidate, provoke feelings of inadequacy and spark physical attraction from Ben and his friend group. Unlike most men subjected to Sam’s litmus test, Ben holds fast, unshaken by Sam’s performance. At once, they recognize a shared similarity within themselves. Something they’re both too scared to confront. Their relationship unfolds over the course of a few weeks. They find redemption in each other’s sides in the most human of ways.

Spoiler-free Plot

Ben spends his time listening to people’s problems for free. He lives a quiet, provincial life with his aging dog, Zeke. In many ways, he has shed the skin of his former life. One in which he worked as a white collar. His only mementos of what once was are beautifully framed photographs of his loved ones, a makeshift museum featuring an assemblage of his and his children’s instruments, and a deep avoidance of the thing that caused him to lose all that he had once held dear.

Sam Becket is a mystery packaged in a suit bound by New York City toughness. She is particularly adept at reading people. Assessing what makes them tick and pushing buttons to see what comes out of it. Her life revolves around work and sex. She flits from place to place and the same can be said of her relationships.

At first, they agreed to spend the weekend together. It was supposed to be a quick layover, with Montreal and one of her lovers set as the destination.

Something happens when the two are in each other’s proximity. They are both admittedly drawn to each other. As if they were opposite poles of two magnets. Through the exchange of difficult questions, they sort through the dark and difficult parts of themselves, organizing their thoughts and beliefs into some semblance of self-acceptance. Vinyl music is played, flannel-clad dancing and warbly singing take place within the walls of Ben’s sleepy house, now revived with newly found love. The two characters find a way to mend themselves and push through the years to decades of stagnation their guilt had forced them into.

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My Take on Cenotaphs

Rich Marcello’s writing is necessary.

During the times of uncertainty, we faced over the two years the global pandemic lasted, many tumbled down the rabbit hole head first and stuck firm with their “truths” while others sank into a state of deep contemplation about any and everything. Rich Marcello falls into the latter group. Each chapter is rich with the understanding of the human condition extending beyond the personal. The questions posed are relatable; many of us sat in the spaces we were confined to and ruminated on the exact same things. Politics, philosophy, love. Rich Marcello taps into the intricacies of human nature without becoming overly contrived. He reigns in his story several lengths before it falls into the pitfall of losing its meaning, losing its potency. This book is exactly as long as it needs to be. Reading it feels like checking in on one’s own humanity. It is chicken soup for the soul.

When the Greeks came up with the five different types of love, they planted a seed from which the pages of this book would be formed. We meet Ben and his friends at Joy’s and the expression of Philia—brotherly love is introduced.

Sam’s plans change spontaneously as Ben opens up his home to her. He is under no obligation to accommodate her, a complete stranger. Similarly, it was never required of him to offer up his couch, his living room, to the other strangers referred to him who sought out his audience and sound advice. This has Xenia written all over it.

Storge—love/affection felt by parents towards their children—looks similar to the words “storage” at a glance. Ben spends a considerable amount of money on ornate frames that hold pictures of his family. He dedicates a room in his house to their childhood musical pursuits out of parental love. Sam put her own life on the line, foregoing any rationale employed in the types of situations they found themselves in for little Samantha, despite the slim chance of a positive outcome.

Slowly but surely, Philautia—self love—starts to creep into their refurbished lives once forgiveness settles into its rightful place.

The obvious and most understood version of Eros—passion and sexual attraction—is missing in the interactions between the protagonists. Its esoteric definition is represented. Sam and Ben see the immense beauty in each other. The authentic, unfiltered, non-corporeal beauty. And from that stems a love that is governed by something stronger than the excitement of the flesh.

I thoroughly enjoyed the idea of Marianne’s cenotaph not being the only existing one in this story; the lives both protagonists lived after their incidents of violence were cenotaphs in and of themselves. They both died in the metaphorical sense by abandoning the worlds they lived in. Sam by changing her name, rejecting her remaining family members, and moving to the busiest place she could think of, drowning herself in work, meaningless sex and the noise of the city. Ben by leaving his job, allowing the distance to expand further and further between himself and his children and grandchildren, moving to an insular location to start anew. Those transitory lives were hollow and empty. At the end of the story, they are two completely new people, separate from the haunting of their past lives. I thought this was quite a clever nod to the book’s title.

Content Warning

Infidelity, Domestic violence, Gun violence, Mentions of sex and nudity, Political discussions

Age Rating

Suitable for teenagers 15+

About The Author Of Cenotaphs

Rich Marcello 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 teaches creative writing at Seven Bridges Writers’ Collaborative, lives in Massachusetts with His family, and is currently working on His sixth and seventh novels, The Means of Keeping and In the Seat of the Eddas.

1 Comment

  • Muzamil BOOKCHOR April 14, 2023

    One of the most remarkable things about cenotaphs is that they can provide a sense of closure and healing to those who have lost loved ones. Whether it is a fallen soldier, a firefighter, or a police officer, these monuments allow us to pay our respects and acknowledge the sacrifices made by those who have given their lives to protect our freedoms and safety.
    thanks for such an amazing article Bookchor

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