Thursday, April 2, 2015

"A Reunion of Ghosts"

Judith Claire Mitchell is the author of the novels The Last Day of the War and A Reunion of Ghosts. She teaches undergraduate and graduate fiction workshops at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is a professor of English and the director of the MFA program in creative writing. She has received grants and fellowships from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, the Wisconsin Arts Board, and Bread Loaf, among others. She lives in Madison with her husband, the artist Don Friedlich, and Josie the West Highland White Terrier.

Mitchell applied the Page 69 Test to A Reunion of Ghosts and reported the following:
Page 69 of A Reunion of Ghosts may very well be the most representative page of the entire novel. To understand why, you first have to know the basic set-up. Basically, it’s the summer of 1999, and Lady, Vee, and Delph Alter, three middle-aged sisters who share an apartment in New York City, are busily writing their joint suicide note. Turns out they come from a long line of depressed, alcoholic suicides, and they feel their own time has come. Before they go, however, they want to explain why they’re going. This includes telling their own stories as well as the stories of the three generations before theirs.

Their story is actually a serious one. Their lives and the lives of their ancestors intersect with many seminal events of the twentieth century, from world war to the first uses of poison gases to the evils of nationalism to the Jewish diaspora of the 1940s, right on through to random gun violence and AIDS and global warming. But the sisters themselves share a dark sense of humor, so the story they tell is cloaked in humor. And one form of humor that the sisters cannot resist is the one often called the lowest form of humor: puns.

Which brings us to page 69. Page 69 comes at a point when the sisters are explaining their father’s desertion. They know very little about this man other than the fact that he sold clothing fasteners—buttons, hooks, that sort of thing—and that he disappeared one day. They do know one other thing, though: their father was the person who first introduced them to the art of punning. And so, on page 69 (and continuing on to page 70), the sisters indulge in the biggest pun-fest in the entire book. They make a series of groan-inducing puns about their father and his job and his name and their own names. They even make puns about their predilection for puns.

Then, when they’re done, they return to telling the story of three little girls abandoned by a father, left to be raised by a mentally unstable mother.

Page 69, then, is representative of the novel’s approach to narrative. It also encapsulates its main characters’ shared view of life. A lot of sorrow, a lot of grief, and yet, with some in-your-face wisecracking and some familial love, the three Alter sisters find a way to go on with their stories.
Visit Judith Claire Mitchell's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Judith Claire Mitchell & Josie.

--Marshal Zeringue