• Rebecca Lerner

Today was a lot

Review of These Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card

As my quarantine book club (started on zoom, continuing on zoom for the foreseeable future) discussed the second half of Maisy Card's debut These Ghosts are Family, someone pointed out a critical stylistic element — the chapters are more vignettes than chapter, sharp fragments into a snippet of someone's life without the promise of more.

We lamented how we wish there had been more, how we could have read hours more of these stories. But afterward, when I was out of the sunny spot in my backyard where I can still get wifi, I thought about how we often don't get more than a glimpse into someone's life. It actually seems sort of crazy that in the majority of books I read I just have free will to know all of the characters' innermost thoughts and desires and fear. Most of the time, if we want to know more about someone, we have to put in the work.

These Ghosts are Family explores the effect a secret can have on a family. How it can bring them together, splinter them or call into question whole identities. Card begins with a major one — sixty-nine-year-old Jamaican-born Stanford Solomon reveals that he was born Abel Paisley. This revelation ricochets throughout the novel as we travel up and down Abel's family tree. The story moves seamlessly from colonial Jamaica to present-day Brooklyn, visiting with the people he loved and the spirits that haunt his lineage.

But even as the ramifications of his actions echo throughout the novel, Abel isn't one of the titular ghosts (also, try to see how many different ways you can say the title by putting the emphasis on different words in the title and turning it into a statement or question. God, I need to get out of my house). The most sinister specter is Harold Fowler, who Abel's hometown in Jamaica was named after. Harold was a despicable and violent British slave-owner of a plantation whose journal is eventually passed down to his descendent Debbie.

Debbie is a cousin of Abel's and a trust fund baby whose dad pays her rent. She becomes haunted by the horrific actions of her ancestors, unable to sleep as she feels the violence he committed on her body. The comparison of Harold vs Debbie felt especially poignant as we read this at the start of June 2020. Harold is obviously and horribly racist; Debbie is a white woman can perform and say the "right" things, but uses Black people as props in her life and can't actually confront her own history of white supremacy. Debbie's willful blindness and loathsome need to control the narrative around her history is not as physically violent as Harold's action, but harmful in its own right.

These Ghosts are Family is captivating in its scope as it moves across centuries, continents, a myriad of themes. But what kept me flipping back to the extremely helpful family tree at the front of the novel was the question — how do they all fit together? Because as they move through this world, every step they take influences someone else, maybe tomorrow or maybe a hundred years from now.


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