Author: Shawn Smucker
Release Date: July 16, 2019
Reviewer: Jennifer S. Roman
Cohen Marah has lived near death his whole life. As a young boy, his parents divorced, and his father moved into an apartment above a funeral home. Later, Cohen works as a funeral director with his family. One day, he enters the embalming room and finds his father on the floor, blood everywhere, and an embalming instrument shoved up through his father’s chin. Freaked out because he thinks his father is dead and he is somehow to blame, he exits the room and leaves his father’s body for someone else to find. Much to his surprise, he is called and told that his father is alive but in critical condition at the hospital. The rest of the story takes place in the hospital as Cohen revisits some of his childhood memories and attempts to come to terms with his fragile relationship with his father.
The story bounces between the past and present, with readers finding out a lot about Cohen from the flashbacks. His parents’ divorce is hard on him because they each took a child, so Cohen does not get to see his beloved sister as much as before. He has a hard time making friends, and is especially thrilled when he meets a brother and sister at an abandoned, burned-out trailer that they used to live in. He spends a lot of time with them when he can find them, but they are secretive and very rarely available to spend time with him. Baseball is his one salvation. It ties him and his father together and causes him to meet a girl, Ava, who turns out to be a reliable friend. Present day Cohen turns to the church for healing while his father is fighting for his life, and it brings Ava back to him because she is the detective investigating his father’s injuries. He knows he is a prime suspect, especially because Ava knows his background. Cohen can’t tell for sure if he killed his father, or if his imagination is running away with him. He’s hoping his more frequent meetings with the priest will help him figure it out.
Yes, this synopsis seems helter-skelter, but I promise that if you read through the book, it will make sense. Once I started, I was hooked. I too had a hard time deciding if Cohen’s memories and actions were real or just part of his imagination. It was quick reading because it was so enthralling and fascinating, and yet, by the time it was over, I was just as confused as I had been throughout. I am not sure if that was the author’s intent or if it was just me missing something really big, but I didn’t really get the final resolution of the story.
I really enjoyed the various characters throughout the book; they are messy, human, and ultimately interesting. Cohen’s father’s misguided ways lead his family to shatter, and each family member deals with it in unique ways. For Cohen, he is stuck with a fallen man who doesn’t seem to connect, and Cohen is left to his own devices. His loneliness is a catalyst to a lot of the story, and it’s easy to see how things happen as they do. His mother is just a side note to the majority of the story, but she plays a big part at the end. His sister Kaye is the stability and normalness that Cohen so desperately wants, but being separated from her, he misses out on that.
I did enjoy the whole story until the confusing ending. That is not to say that this is not a good book, but rather, I am one who needs things to be wrapped up at the end. If you enjoy books that leave a lot up to the reader, you will be happy to read Light from Distant Stars.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The views and opinions expressed within are my own.