A Reunion of Ghosts: A Novelby Judith Claire Mitchell
A NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FINALIST
“The Alter sisters are mordant, wry, and crystalline in wit and vision; it is a tremendous pleasure to rocket through generations of their family histories with them.” —Lauren Groff, New York Timesbestselling author of Fates and Furies, The Monsters of Templeton,/b>/b>/b>
A NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD FINALIST
“The Alter sisters are mordant, wry, and crystalline in wit and vision; it is a tremendous pleasure to rocket through generations of their family histories with them.” —Lauren Groff, New York Timesbestselling author of Fates and Furies, The Monsters of Templeton, and Arcadia
In the waning days of 1999, the last of the Alters—three damaged but wisecracking sisters who share an apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side—decide it’s time to close the circle of the family curse by taking their own lives. But first, Lady, Vee, and Delph must explain the origins of that curse and how it has manifested throughout the preceding generations. Unspooling threads of history, personal memory, and family lore, they weave a mesmerizing account that stretches back a century to their great-grandfather, a brilliant scientist whose professional triumph became the terrible legacy that defines them. A suicide note crafted by three bright, funny women, A Reunion of Ghosts is the final chapter of a saga lifetimes in the making—one that is inexorably intertwined with the story of the twentieth century itself.
“Mitchell explores the mixed-blessing bonds of family with wry wit. This original tale is black comedy at its best.”—People Book of the Week
“A rich portrait of a complicated family, at turns violent and hilarious.”—Emma Straub, New York Timesbestselling author
Mitchell’s triumphant second novel (The Last Day of the War) explores love, identity, and the burdens of history in coruscating, darkly comic prose. As the 20th century closes, Lady, Delph, and Vee Alter decide to kill themselves. The decision is not surprising; the middle-aged sisters embrace the chart of previous family suicides that hangs in their New York apartment as a source of “reassuring inevitability.” Departing from Alter tradition, however, they decide to leave a suicide note, intertwining their own narratives into their family’s complex history. At the heart of it is German Jew turned Lutheran Lenz Alter, who invented the chemical process that created the chlorine gas used in WWI and a predecessor to Zyklon B, used in Nazi death camps. His culpability seemed to poison the generations, as Lenz; his wife, Iris; their son, Richard; and Richard’s three daughters (one of whom is the mother of Lady, Delph, and Vee) all died by their own hands. Or so the sisters think, until a surprising visitation suggests that the family curse is not as defining as it seems. Moving nimbly through time and balancing her weightier themes with the sharply funny, fiercely unsentimental perspectives of her three protagonists—each distinct, yet also, as their name suggests, at “different stages of a single life”—Mitchell’s fictional suicide note is poignant and pulsing with life force. Agent: Eric Simonoff, WME Entertainment. (Mar.)
Meet the rather sad small sorority of Lady, Vee, and Delph Alter, sisters who have given themselves the "deadline" of late December 1999 to commit suicide. Their reasons are based mostly on that the Alters have miserable luck, stretching back to their great-grandfather, whose brilliant scientific legacy has clouded and haunted their lives. Lady, enamored with alcohol and television, has attempted suicide previously; Vee has suffered many losses owing to cancer, which has visited once again. Sheltered spinster Delph has lived a life of few dreams. And so the Alter curse must be broken, thus the siblings gather in their ancestral Upper West Side apartment. Mitchell (The Last Day of the War) presents the sisters sympathetically in this clever, modern tale that somehow also hearkens back to Albert Einstein, Walt Whitman, and a host of unusual, lively memorable characters. Following the novel's conclusion, the author's note reveals fascinating historical information. VERDICT While the dark theme may not appeal to some readers, this serious study of a very odd family has its darkly humorous side. [See Prepub Alert, 10/15/14.]—Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA
Three middle-aged sisters collaborating on a memoir that's meant to double as their collective suicide note may not sound like a hilarious premise for a novel, but Mitchell's masterful family saga is as funny as it is aching. Together, Lady, Vee and Delph Alter have decided that New Year's Eve, 1999—the cusp of the new millennium—will be the day they end their lives, quietly and with as little melodrama as possible. But first, they have embarked upon writing this "whatever-it-is—this memoir, this family history, this quasi-confessional." It will record the saga of the last four generations of Alters (theirs included). Also, it will double as their joint suicide note. ("Q: How do three sisters write a single suicide note? A: The same way a porcupine makes love: carefully.") Suicide seems to run in the Alter family, and now it has reached the current generation: Vee, the middle sister—whose beloved husband was murdered getting lunch one day at Chock full o'Nuts—has cancer, with six months to a year left. If one sister goes, they're all going. And so begins their project, which traces the Alter family history, starting with their maternal great-grandmother, brilliant and stifled, and great-grandfather, the German-Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist who invented the gas that would ultimately be used in the Nazi death chambers. "He was the sinner who doomed us all," they write, the root of the ill-fated family tree. She died (a gun in the garden); he followed suit (morphine). With variations, the subsequent generations did the same. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present, from Germany to the Upper West Side, Mitchell's (The Last Day of the War, 2004) dark comedy captures the agony and ecstasy (but mostly agony) with deep empathy and profound wit. For the Alters, life has been a seemingly endless series of tragedies; for us, the tragedy is that this stunning novel inevitably comes to an end.
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Meet the Author
Judith Claire Mitchell, author of the novel The Last Day of the War, is an English professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Mitchell has received fellowships from the James A. Michener/Copernicus Society, Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, Wisconsin Arts Board, and elsewhere. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is the story about three sisters who decide to commit suicide together after discovering that Vee’s cancer has returned. The story starts in the summer of 1999. Lady, Vee and Delph Alter write a memoir/suicide letter about their family history. The three sisters live in an apartment on Riverside Drive in New York where they grew up. Lady is 49 and a divorcee. Vee is a widower, 46 and discovers that she is dying of cancer. Delph is the youngest at 42 and is a spinster (and still a virgin). The book details the history of their family which came from Germany. One of their ancestors invented the gas used in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. They talk about how their relatives committed suicide and did not leave notes. The girls have even compiled a family tree which shows how each person killed themselves. A Reunion of Ghosts was not a hit with me. I found this book to be a very lengthy tome. I did not think it would ever end. I give it 1 out of 5 stars. I think the book could have done with a good editing. A Reunion of Ghosts is a very dark story with a depressing ending. I received a complimentary copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Beautifully written. I was sad when I reached the last page!
I'm having a hard time finishing this book.