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A bit about the characters in The Benevolence of New Ideas

Carmela Cattuti

"Where did you get the idea for the minor characters in The Benevolence of New Ideas?" This question was asked over a year ago by one of my readers. I really had to think about it because the minor players developed organically. They all had strong voices and were fierce in their expression. Many of them I knew as a child when they visited our home to seek my great aunt's advice on life's problems in the mid 20th century. I had thought that by today's standards, their concerns would seem inconsequential and hardly life changing. But, on second thought, I discovered that their issues were not so different from the 21st century: war, immigration, domestic violence, and financial concerns. The distinction was that they approached these problems with a different mind-set.

Communication was slower and more personal in the early to mid 20th century. There was also a subtly to their conversation, one had to be sensitive to sub-text with many contradictions. For example, there is a gay man in the novel called Uncle Robert. If we encountered Robert today, we would immediately categorize him as gay. He wore Armani suits with a pinky diamond ring, smoked French cigarettes with a cigarette holder, and called everyone "darling." He also lived with a "roommate" in New York City. His family accepted that he was just an old maid and preferred the single life style and a high end life-style. The physical evidence of his sexuality and the characters' mind-set was contradictory. As this character evolved I felt it was only natural in the 1960s that his homosexuality was not acknowledge.

The character of Sadie Malaci developed in much the same way. When we meet her in the novel, she is dressed in tattered clothes and enjoyed drinking wine without feeling self-conscious, regardless of what the Italian American community thought. Sadie made her rounds in the Italian American community, visiting houses where the men made wine. The wives would dread it when they saw her walking up to their houses. But Sadie was not the poor lost widow that they thought, she was actually quite wealthy. Angela (the main character) knew this, but never confronted her, instead she accepted that Sadie presented herself as she did for a reason and that was fine with her.

So, the development of the minor character imbues the novel with mystery and acceptance of the individual. It's not necessary to know everything about a person as long as the reader is aware. I don't think I planned it this way, but as it turns out these smaller players create a sense of time, place, and depth of character that would otherwise be missing from the novel. The reader is the only one privy to certain information so an anticipation develops between the book and the reader. A powerful combination.


Carmela Cattuti started her writing career as a writer for the Somerville News in Boston, MA. She is a writer, painter, and yoga instructor in Boston. After she finished her graduate work in English Literature at Boston College, she began to write creatively and taught a journal writing class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. As fate would have it, she felt compelled to write her great-aunt’s story. Between the Cracks and The Ascent have gone through many incarnations and will become a trilogy. The Ascent is the second in the series. The third novel, The Benevolence of New Ideas, will be published October, 2021. To connect with Carmela email her at or visit her web site at Between the Cracks is an audio book and can be purchased on audible.


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