A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell (3 out of 5)
I read about this book, I think, in Publishers Weekly. And as author and store customer Kevin Guilefoile likes to say, what do they really pan? Not much, really. I have gotten a few good ideas for books to read from them, but not many. They showcase books coming out in 7 months, and really, am I going to remember that? Not likely! This one sounded great so we ordered a copy- and when it came in and there was an enthusiastic recommendation from Anthony Doerr, author of All The Light We Cannot See, my favorite fiction book last year. So I felt I MUST read this book. And so I did. I just didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to. Likely, because I have a shit ton of happy, weird books that seem to be able to capture my attention long enough for me to finish them. Overall, not a bad read, just not something I’m going to go gangbusters about.
The three Alter sisters- Vee, Lady, and Delph- have decided to kill themselves in the last days of 1999. Their family history is also littered with family suicides, so much, in fact that the sisters have a flow chart showing the family suicides through the years, and have it prominently displayed on a door. Why are the ladies doing this? NOT just family history. The sisters all have things going marginally wrong in their lives and they just can’t shake those feelings (Lady is destroyed after her divorce; Vee is fighting cancer which may finally claim her if she doesn’t do it first; and Delph is a spinster who seems to have no hope of ever being a wife or mother, or even a significant other). The thing about these sisters, as written by Mitchell, is that they are highly sympathetic characters. You want to hug, smack, or talk to them. You want them to snap out of it and figure out that even when life sucks, you have to fight on. Coming from a family where suicide is prevalent(my mom AND several of my aunts as well), this was hard for me to swallow. The girls deign to go out together and in spectacular fashion, and gather in their apartment to do so. They go over the tortured family history, and that’s where the novel’s dark humor REALLY shines through. And I enjoyed the trip down Alter memory lane. But then..as you know from the premise of the novel…the end inevitably approaches. And with it, well, not only did I get disconnected somewhat from the girls, but I also got angry that they weren’t going to try to avoid the family line, but give into it. There was a lot of yelling at the book toward the end. And again, if I didn’t love these characters so much, I would not have been yelling. The book serves as the “suicide note” they leave behind, and I think that was a brilliant move on Mitchell’s part, but I think it lost something for me with the end of the narrative.
Would I recommend it? Absolutely, but I would warn people that it may make you want to beat the hell out of someone as a result. Again, it was well written and I loved the dark humor and the sisters, but it just lost me toward the end.