“Cohen Marah clears his throat quietly, more out of discomfort than the presence of any particular thing that needs clearing, and attempts to step over the body for a second time.”
Shawn Smucker is at it again, writing a captivating story (that’s the first sentence above) that you can’t wait to finish and then feel unsettled by when it ends. It leaves a compelling taste that has your mind revisiting the story, thinking about the conclusions you (he?) have drawn, pondering your relationships and God and your own soul.
If you’ve been a reader of my blog for a while, you’ll know Shawn from his peculiar young adult (YA) series that grapples with death, which I’ve reviewed before. He’s my 15-year-old grandson’s favorite author. His words: “He’s a phenomenal writer. It’s amazing how great the story is but it still applies to my life today.” (Shawn is also a nonfiction coauthor, recently of Once We Were Strangers, about his friendship with a Syrian refugee. See my review here.)
Light from Distant Stars is Shawn’s first adult novel, and you’ll be immediately thankful to know that more are in the pipeline (or perhaps, more accurately, the pen). I received an advanced reader copy from W Publishing and this is my honest review.
Cohen Marah works with his father in their family funeral home. Stepping over his father’s body launches him into some complicated mental gymnastics, revisiting his childhood and the moral trauma that left him with conflicted feelings toward and complicated relationships with both of his parents. As memories of baseball, of the terrors of the Beast, and of a long-ago secret mission invade his thoughts, he keeps coming back to questions of guilt, Did I kill my father?
The trailer above for Light from Distant Stars refers to the story as eerie, and it’s an apt description. At times, I found it too creepy, my blood pounding in my head. One evening, reading late, I wondered if I would have nightmares. (I didn’t.) But I couldn’t stop reading. I was captivated by the story, wondering if Cohen would survive with his mind intact, if there was hope for some healing from the wounds of the past. Hope comes on a breath, from a friend, and in a confessional booth. Hope comes in laying bare the secrets that hold him captive, freeing him to reach out again.
Suspense really isn’t my thing. Neither are books that delve into the inner workings of the mind. But Shawn’s powerful weaving of words makes a dive into the deep end so worth it. Order a copy for yourself and let your mind and your emotions get wrapped up in a powerful story that lingers in your mouth, in your mind, and may even give you pause to consider what lies hidden within you that needs to see the light.
Let me leave you with one beautiful paragraph. Cohen’s Episcopal priest is talking with him:
“We are all broken, Cohen.
We are all reeling from the things that have been done to us in the past or
from the things we have done.
We have all killed, all destroyed, all hated.
There is nothing new in what you have done or what you are remembering, nothing new under the sun.
This is confession:
remembering and bringing something into the light
so that it can be seen, held,
and let go of, into the silence.”