As I started Katarina Mazetti’s Benny & Shrimp I couldn’t believe the book I had been seeing people Tweet and post about this summer started in a graveyard. It made me laugh as another book I had recently read and reviewed (Her Fearful Symmetry) also had elements of a love story set in a cemetery, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
This book is told in alternating chapters by Benny, the local cow farmer, and Desiree (who Benny nicknames Shrimp), the widow bookworm librarian. They meet at the cemetery, sharing a bench that sits in between the plots each is visiting (Benny, his parents; Shrimp, her husband). Rather than love at first sight this couple shares more annoyance at first site. Benny find Shrimp boring (seeing her as beige in hair, skin and clothes) while Shrimp can not believe all the plants and garish ornaments that Benny brings to cover “his” grave. It isn’t until a little girl visiting her grandfather’s grave bemoans that her grandfather will be angry with her spilling water on his gravestone that they connect – through smiles (albeit misinterpreted). Once this connection is formed their relationship quickly becomes quite passionate, and certainly not what one might consider a typical romance.
To say I liked this book would be an understatement. At times it was painful to read Benny and Shrimp’s accounts of their push and pull relationship. I found myself angry at each of them for something said, or assumed, or ignored. Benny was looking for a woman who would be his farmwife, helping out with the cows, keeping house, having a hot dinner waiting for him when he returned home and maybe watch a little TV with before going to bed early and starting it all over again the next day. Shrimp wanted a partner to share a newspaper, dinner out and night at the opera with, and maybe some travel thrown in too. Her view of both her parent’s marriage and her marriage made it hard for her to form a relationship on some level as well. But that is what connected me with this book. They were real. They brought out emotions in me, as they brought out emotional responses from each other.
As the book went on, each did try in some ways to help accommodate the other in their very different lives. Benny redecorated his bedroom, Shrimp bought some overalls with the intention of maybe helping out. I personally think Shrimp did try harder, if only because she had a lot of emotional hurdles to get over and at least had intentions of trying.
I won’t go into it more as I don’t want to have any spoilers, but I will say that there is a sequel to this book (it came out in Sweden in 2005) that I believe still needs to be translated into English. And I certainly can’t wait to see how their stories go on.
Thanks to FSB Associates for sending me a copy of this book to read/review.
Benny & Shrimp
Author: Katarina Mazetti
Published: July 28, 2009 (paperback)