Desert Isle Keeper
These Ghosts are Family
These Ghosts are Family is a spellbinding, beautifully written story about the way generational trauma can harm, form or save a person – and how the ghosts of the past always loom over one’s shoulder.
Stanford Solomon is facing down the end of his life with a heavy sense of responsibility. His beloved wife Adele is dead; he’s just suffered a debilitating heart attack, and months before he shuttered the Indian grocery store he ran for two decades.
But Stanford has something to say to the women in his life that ties into the emotional burden he’s facing and the future he may not have the luck to live. His daughter Estelle, an addict, lives in the basement and must endure the fact that the father with whom she has a contentious relationship raised her daughter Caren, who is now eighteen, continues to mourn her grandmother and is conducting an affair with a college professor. Stanford has a deep secret that’s thirty years old that he needs to get out, before it’s too late.
Thirty-six years earlier, Stanford Solomon was Abel Paisley – a timid man with a dead-end job as a police officer, a vengeful wife and two children back in Jamaica – who faked his own death when an accident provided the opportunity for him to do so. Born anew as Solomon, Stanford fell in love with Adele, had two more children, and proceeded to live out his life in New York.
It’s clearly fate intervening when the home health care aide he’s selected turns out to be Irene, the toddler he abandoned and who, abandoned by her own husband, lives in the basement of her Brooklyn apartment with her two children.
As Stanford explains how he abandoned being Abel to Estelle, Caren and Irene, the ghost of Vera – the wife he left when he reinvented himself – looms in the background, planning to possess one of the women and kill Abel. Back through the years we go – visiting the lives of the people that Abel/Stanford has ruined and changed through his actions. The generational trauma of their lives leaks back in time, to his enslaved ancestors, who rebelled against an evil master, to the son he’s never met who is writing a book about that ancestor.
These Ghosts are Family is a stunningly powerful experience, laced through with prose that’s gorgeous and effortless, and reminded me of Toni Morrison. A story of pain and of love, of ancestral pride and parental disgust, of joy and trauma, the magic of an ancient tale and the bone-deep reality of having to change a bedpan.
There are many characters in the book whose minds we spend a bit of time in. Vengeful Vera is a force of nature – and probably my favorite character – though I loved each one in all of their complex rage, desire, obsession and love.
It’s easy to sink happily into this book; it’s easy to let it make you sad for the people in it, to break your heart, to make you want to live harder or let a fairytale absorb you. These Ghosts are Family will do all of this and more for you. Please let it enter your life and take you to somewhere incredible.
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Note: The book includes many heavy thematic subjects, including miscarriage, abuse, and violence.