A Safe Place – Lorenzo Carcaterra

As I’ve been mentioning for the past several weeks, we had to read A Safe Place for my capstone class, “Life and Career Planning.” I started it almost a month ago before realizing that it wasn’t due until this coming Thursday, and so stopped about in the middle of it, and I finished the rest of it on Monday, on my way back from Baltimore.

A Safe Place is memoir detailing the life of Mario Carcaterra, Lorenzo’s abusive father. When Lorenzo is fourteen, his mother tells him an explosive secret: his father’s first wife, Grace, did not die of cancer. She was murdered—murdered by her husband, Lorenzo’s father. Suddenly, Lorenzo’s world is turned upside-down as he tries to not only come to terms with what his father did, but to understand him, and learn his story.

Let me just start off by saying that I’ve read plenty of graphically violent books in my day, mostly of the Stephen King variety, but nothing has ever affected me the way A Safe Place did. I think it was mostly the fact that it was so consistently violent: from the absurd amount of abuse Mario deals out to both his wives and to Lorenzo to the “whiskey fights” Mario participates in, every other page details someone—most often Raffaela, Lorenzo’s mother—getting beaten to a pulp. Frankly, it was highly disturbing, and I found myself fighting back tears more than once as I was reading.

What disturbed me most was Lorenzo’s mother refusing to leave his father. To her, it was “her place” to stay where her husband was; it was the bed she had made for herself, and she was going to lie in it, no matter what happened. She took severe, daily beatings at his hand, and yet cared for him lovingly, tenderly, as he was dying from cancer. When he apologized for “everything he did wrong,” she said there was nothing to be sorry for. Now, that I just can’t understand. I do understand the abuse cycle, with the honeymoon phases and the violent phases—it’s almost like Stockholm syndrome, where an abuser/captor/whatever suddenly stops after a long period of abuse, and the relief of the abused is so great that they perceive this lack of abuse as kindness. If the Carcaterras’ situation had been like that, I could understand a little better why Raffaela chose to stay. But from all indications, there was never any break in abuse. It wasn’t always physical abuse, but if it wasn’t physical, it was verbal.

I understand a little more about why Lorenzo loved his father—his father was, at times, good to him, taking him to baseball games and boxing matches. But the constant abuse of his mother…I don’t understand how she stood it. Especially after learning, on her wedding night, what happened to Mario’s first wife. I would have been out of there quicker than you can say “domestic abuse.” Either that, or I would have killed him myself after standing so much abuse over the years.

Despite its horrible, horrible subject matter, it was very well-written, and while I probably won’t ever have any desire to read it again (nor would I really recommend it to anyone), I have to give it a decent rating because if nothing else, it was absolutely, unrelentingly, brutally honest.


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