A retired rock star finds work in a cemetery in this morosely intriguing novel by Castrodale (Marion Hatley, 2017).
Ben Dirjery is approaching his 50th birthday, the age at which both his father and grandfather dropped dead. He started jogging and is considering a green burial; after his death, mushrooms would break down his body naturally and make “some really nice compost.” Ben’s morbid nature often perplexes Cole, his daughter, yet it perhaps shouldn’t because her dad is a gravedigger at Bolster Hill Cemetery. Ben used to be a guitarist in an emerging rock band, The Vagrants, performing under what would become an appropriate pseudonym, Nick Graves. He traded the band for fatherhood and a steady job and now tends the cemetery where Vince Resklar, the lead singer of his band, is interred. Unrest comes to Bolster Hill when a court order requires the exhumation of the body of an unknown vagrant who was buried outside the cemetery’s gates long ago. Ben becomes caught between his contractual obligations and the outcry of the protesters who vehemently campaign for the grave to be left untouched. This novel plays upon the sense of unease associated with cemeteries. Much of the novel is set around the gravestones and follows Ben watering and weeding the grounds or observing cemetery mushrooms. Castrodale possesses the uncanny power of transforming this customarily uncomfortable space into somewhere oddly inviting. Her tender, detailed descriptions lend a magicality to the cemetery, like when Peg, one of the protesters, stumbles across bioluminescent fungi: “Crouching at the base of the tree, an old birch, she discovered that the light was coming from a clump of mushrooms in their umbrella-ish prime. They’d sprouted from one of the birch’s fallen branches....What a strange place this is, Peg thought. What a strange and wonderful place.” In the end, these startlingly incongruous parts—graveyards, guitars, and mushrooms—come together in satisfying and unexpected ways.
Sharp writing and an unconventional plot make for a darkly enjoyable read.