Review | Running at Hialeah : by Don Marinelli

Out of the gate this story springs into action. There is no initial fifty page set up of characters and setting. Bernie Buccellato spontaneously develops as a complex main player from the start. There is plenty to wonder about before his race for redemption is over and his father’s death bed request of having his ashes scattered at the finish line of Hialeah racetrack is fulfilled.

Who is Bernie? This fifty five year old, former New York City bus driver, returns to Hialeah, Florida after thirty years.

“A lost, middle-aged Italian American divorcee, flush with cash, desperate to connect with deceased parents, returning to the scene of psychological criminality.”
page 158

His mission begins with the purchase of the house that was his home in Hialeah. When Bernie was fifteen years old, his father moved the family, over night, from Brooklyn to Hialeah, to live in his grandparents’ winter home near the racetrack. Bernie saw the house as “castle, fortress, and eventual prison of his youth.”

Bernie embarks upon facing the dark demons of his past. He is accompanied on the journey by “Dad-in-a-box”, his father’s cremains. How appropriate that Dad’s box remains on the kitchen table for many soul searching conversations. Bernie refers to the kitchen table as “the family sparring ring”. It seems, Bernie’s Dad started as his father, became the family pariah, and died as the invisible man.

This may begin to sound like a depressing read, but believe me it is not. There is humor and kindness galore in this saga. Most of the warmth eminates from the “stable of friends” Bernie makes on his return to Hialeah. These are ordinary people with ordinary lives and extraordinary gifts. Bernie is the protagonist in a “Tragicomedy”. The cast of characters help him create his way forward and to discover that he can’t change the past, he can only change himself. Kudos to Don Marinelli for his expert development of these numerous players. Their persons and personalities are so clear you feel that you know them. None of them will disappoint Bernie or the reader.

Bernie is an “extra” extrovert. His thought processes are often verbalized and socially inappropriate. He has a penchant for irrationality. His rapid fire free associations confound. However, all of this is tempered by his kindness. In fact, Yolanda, Bernie’s real estate agent, and soon to be significant other, sees Bernie as amazing.

” Yolanda’s amazement at Bernie’s ability to fantasize, rationalize, convince and conjugate himself of such insanity achieved new levels. He conjured schemes so outlandishly ridiculous they somehow garnered actionable acceptance among sane people even while acknowledging their utter implausibility.”
pages 296-297

Bernie gives Yolanda the nickname Yoyo. I see it as symbolic of her ability to flow with and direct Bernie’s ups and downs. She is his stabilizer.

Money is no problem for Bernie. He has plenty. He is fifty five and a retired bus driver. How can this be? There are many layers to Bernie and the reader has the thrill of peeling them back. His seemingly limitless finances are generously shared along his journey.

Since the story takes place in 2001, Bernie’s youthful memories are from the 1950’s – 1960’s. References are made to many cultural aspects of those “happier times”. For me, a couple stood out above the rest. Bernie’s soft spot for the television show “Fury” touched home with me, and his admiration for David McCallum’s character, Lt. Commander Pitt of the Royal Navy, in the movie “The Great Escape” lit up many memories of classic film.

The research for this book is admirable. I’ve never been to Hialeah, Florida, or, for that matter, to any horse racing track. My experience with horse racing is the annual Triple Crown season on television. I can now say am considerably more knowledgeable. The people and culture of South Florida, including Cuban, Haitian, and Miccosukes Tribe cultures are so colorful and this book paints the picture in a delightful way.

“Bernie pondered the vagaries of life itself, how time, aging, experience, and fantasy alter the perception of memories.”

Don Marinelli’s attention to detail and his talent for description put the reader at Bernie’s side for the experience. Bernie’s victory is for his father and himself. There is nothing slow about “Running at Hialeah”. The motivation to keep moving through its four hundred plus pages is a reader’s treat.

Published by Audrey Newhall

I am an avid reader and contributor to Penna Book Reviews

One thought on “Review | Running at Hialeah : by Don Marinelli

  1. Anyone who knows me will attest at my never being at a loss for words. Except in this case. This review captures everything I had hoped to achieve in writing this book. I am humbled yet ecstatic at how you “got it.” Thank you so very much. Don


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