cover image A Reunion of Ghosts

A Reunion of Ghosts

Judith Claire Mitchell. Harper, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-235588-1

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.)