Book of the Week: A Reunion of Ghosts – Judith Claire Mitchell

The three Alter sisters–great granddaughters of the inventor of mustard gas—decide the kill themselves on the last day of the 20th century and bring to a close their story of a family haunted by suicide and the burden of history. The fiction, the story was extensively researched, drawing on the life and legacy of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Prize winner who invented chlorine gas. The result is, as Anthony Doerr says, a “fascinating, funny, and deeply sad 350-page suicide note…a triumphant, beautiful, and devastating novel about coincidences, family, and the sins of our fathers.”

This is a wry, original take on how we live in the face of what has come before us. It’s received two starred advance reviews, is an Indie Next pick, and a bookseller favorite.

Mitchell’s triumphant second novel 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….[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.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“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…. Moving seamlessly between the past and the present… it captures the agony and ecstasy (but mostly agony) with deep empathy and profound wit.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[The Alter sisters] have written a suicide note together, which is more than a ‘goodbye, world’ note; it’s also a family history….A Reunion of Ghosts is a captivating chronicle of a family and the weight of consequences, which grows heavier with time. It’s the quirky, dark comedy, family saga you’ll want to read!”
— Jennifer Steele, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

“The three sisters tell the history of their family, beginning with Lorenz, and tell their own individual histories, guiding us through their reactions to the family curse and their separate paths that lead to their mutual decision.  Mitchell braids the present day and historical family strands through the novel as skillfully as she plaits the narrative styles.  Sisterly debate, disappointment, argument, support, care, obligations, and love – all these and more fill the lives of these three very human characters….The Alter family may be cursed (still an ongoing debate.), but we certainly are not.”
— Allen Murphey, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

A Reunion of Ghosts (9780062355881) by Judith Claire Mitchell. $26.99 hardcover. 3/24/15 on sale.

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