Excerpt from A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Reunion of Ghosts

by Judith C. Mitchell

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell X
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C. Mitchell
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2015, 400 pages
    Jan 2016, 400 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Davida Chazan
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A Reunion of Ghosts

From a distance the tattoo wrapped around Delph's calf looks like a serpentine chain, but stand closer and it's actually sixty-seven tiny letters and symbols that form a sentence—a curse:

the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children to the 3rd & 4th generations

We are that fourth generation: Lady, Vee, and Delph Alter, three sisters who share the same Riverside Drive apartment in which they were raised; three women of a certain age, those ages being, on this first day of summer 1999, forty-nine, forty-six, and forty-two. We're also seven fewer Jews than a minyan make, a trio of fierce believers in all sorts of mysterious forces that we don't understand, and a triumvirate of feminists who nevertheless describe ourselves in relation to relationships: we're a partnerless, childless, even petless sorority consisting of one divorcee (Lady), one perpetually grieving widow (Vee), and one spinster—that would be Delph.

When we were young women, with our big bosoms and butts, our black-rimmed glasses low on the bridges of our broad beaky noses, our dark hair corkscrew curly, we resembled a small flock of intellectual geese in fright wigs, and people struggled to tell us apart. These days it's less difficult.

Lady is the oldest, and now that she's one year shy of fifty, she's begun to look it, soft at the jaw, bruised and creped beneath her eyes. She's the one who wears nothing but black, not in a chic New York way, but in the way of someone who finds making an effort exhausting. Every day: sweatshirt, jeans, sneakers, all black. "I work in a bookstore," she says, "and then I come home and stay home. Who do I have to dress up for?" She wears no bra, hasn't since the 1960s, and these days her breasts sag to her belly, making her seem even rounder than she is. "Who cares?" she says. "It's not like I'm trying to meet someone." Her hair, which she wears in a long queue held with a leather and stick barrette, is freighted with gray.

Vee is the tallest (though we areall short), and the thinnest (though none of us is thin). Her face is unlined as if she's never had any cares, which (she says with good reason) is a laugh. She doesn't like black, prefers cobalts and purples and emeralds, royal colors that make her look alive even as she's dying. "Isn't that what fashion is?" she says. "A nonverbal means of lying about the sad, naked truth?" She wears no bra either, but in her case it's because she has no breasts. She has no hair either. Chemo-induced alopecia, they call it. No hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes. Her underarms, her legs—they're little-girl smooth. As is the rest of her. Little-girl smooth.

Delph is still the baby. Even now, two years into her forties, she looks much younger than the other two. She's the smallest, barely five foot one, and the chubbiest, and she still wears girlish clothes: white peasant blouses with embroidery and drawstrings; long floral skirts that sometimes skim the ground, the hems frayed from sidewalks. As for her hair, it's always been the longest, the wildest, the curliest, those curls bouffanting into the air, rippling down her back, tendriling around her big hoop earrings, falling into her mouth, spiraling down into her eyes. She says there's nothing to be done about it; it's just the way her hair wants to be. "There's plenty to be done about it," Vee has said more than once. "Just get me a pair of hedge clippers, and I'll show you."

So: black-clad, gray-haired, saggy, baggy Lady. Pale-skinned, bald-headed, flat-chested Vee. And little Delph. Three easily distinguishable women. And yet people still mix us up. The aged super who has known us since we were children. Our neighbors, old and new. We don't resent it. Even our mother used to get jumbled up and call us by the wrong names. Sometimes we do it ourselves.

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Excerpted from A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith C Mitchell. Copyright © 2015 by Judith C Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Harper. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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