Monday, March 30, 2015

A Reunion of Ghosts

I am so on a reading roll. Like, I'm riding the Reading Rainbow, lambs. It's kind of ridiculous. But the good news is that if I keep up on this pace, I might be able to read for fun in a week or so.

Which is total crazy talk, I tell you.

A Reunion of Ghosts - Judith Claire Mitchell
A Reunion Of Ghosts
A compulsively readable literary masterpiece, A Reunion of Ghosts is the shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the 20th century, honoring the dark legacy that has haunted their extraordinary family for decades

How do three sisters write a single suicide note?

In the waning days of 1999, the Alter sisters—Lady, Vee, and Delph—finalize their plans to end their lives. Their reasons are not theirs alone; they are the last in a long line of Alters who have killed themselves, beginning with their great-grandmother, the wife of a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who developed the first poison gas used in World War I and the lethal agent used in Third Reich gas chambers. The chemist himself, their son Richard, and Richard’s children all followed suit.

The childless sisters also define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, never really resumed living after her divorce. Vee is facing cancer’s return. And Delph, the youngest, is resigned to a spinster’s life of stifled dreams. But despite their pain they love each other fiercely, and share a darkly brilliant sense of humor.

As they gather in the ancestral Upper West Side apartment to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic story about four generations of one family—inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of chlorine gas—unfolds. A Reunion of Ghosts is a magnificent tale of fate and blood, sin and absolution; partly a memoir of sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all a profound commentary on the events of the 20th century.

It's books like this that make me SO glad I never kept going with my English degree because I don't feel very smart. Anytime a book is so well written and considered a literary masterpiece, I should just know it's apparently over my reading level and I won't get it. Well, I won't get the hype. So the quick and dirty is that I didn't get the draw of this book? 

The story follows three sisters: Lady, Vee, and Delph, and we learn about their lives prior to their joint decision to end their lives. They are all in it together, like the Three Musketeers. But it's not like they just decided, "Hey- let's kill ourselves", they all lead kind of blah lives and they've all had a series of unfortunate things happen to them that makes it all seem like a totally normal conclusion. The other kicker is they are from a long line of Alters who have killed themselves in various fashions. The thing about the book that made this such a long read for me, a long read where I wanted to just give up every chapter but I plugged on anyways out of guilt, was that it is SO MUCH DETAIL. So much unnecessary information and passages and I felt like it was wasting my time. It was taking away from the sisters and their dark humor, which actually WAS humorous. I felt like if more of the book could focus on that, this would be have been a much more enjoyable read for me. 

But with that, I can't really say it was a terrible read- it wasn't. The story is rich, there is a definite arc to it and very much a conclusion. It's got everything a story needs, and though the story is about three sisters- I felt like they were all equally crafted characters. The biggest "revelation" of the book is that one of their ancestors is the one who invented the gas used in  concentration camp gas chambers. And while that's pretty unfortunate... who cares? To me it's like saying that your great-great-great-great-great grandfather was a slave. Not ideal, but... who cares? Do you want a medal? Do you want sympathy? A Hallmark card? It doesn't define you as a person now, but it's an interesting tidbit. It's not like people will hold you personally liable for those deaths now. 

So I don't know. I get why people liked the book. It is definitely something that would be a great conversation piece for a book club. It just reaffirmed that maybe I'm not that smart that I'm not understanding the literary masterpiece value of it. 

Judith Claire Mitchell has a website you can learn more at, and she also has a Facebook page to get more information about her books and appearances. A Reunion of Ghosts can be purchased at Amazon, Indiebound and Barnes & Noble.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.