Maisy Card’s debut novel, These Ghosts Are Family ( Simon & Schuster – 3/3/2020), is quite possibly my most favorite read of this crazy year; I don’t typically give stars, but I’m giving this novel an entire galaxy.
The novel is told in a fragmented way that brings to mind the oral tradition of story-telling – a rambling stroll through history and time, families and legends, with the listener hanging on every word spilling forth from the story-teller’s mouth. And Maisy Card can most certainly spin a tale.
The novel opens in Harlem in 2005, with Stanford Solomon preparing to admit that he is actually Abel Paisley – and that he had faked his death and assumed Stan’s identity years ago.
When Abel left Jamaica to work in England, he left behind a demanding and promiscuous wife, Vera, and two small children. Irene has little memory of her father beyond the picture of him beneath a mango tree – a tree she’d run to whenever her mother would abuse her. She spends her entire life wondering how things would have been different, would have been better, had her father not died in that unfortunate accident. She flees her mother and Jamaica only to find herself standing before the wheelchair-bound man, the father she’s mourned for decades, who needs to confess his sins before he dies.
The story splinters out, showing how Abel’s decision to steal Stanford’s identity impacted his entire family. And while this novel is very much about the sins of the father being visited on the sons (and daughters), Abel’s sin is not the focus – these sins go far back to the Warm Manor plantation where people barter and trade in flesh, where lighter skin is praised and more costly, and men own the children they put in the bellies of their slaves. These are the skeletons of a family tree.
Jamaica, the true ghost of the family, breathes. From England to Harlem, she breathes – heavy on the backs of those who sought to escape her. And no story about familial ghosts of Jamaica would be complete without an Ol’ Hige or three. The blood-suck hag who sheds her skin has her place in the family tree – this is her home, too.
And there is the heart of this novel – home. Dust your ghosts off and set them on a shelf. Carry them with you where you go. They are your home – good, bad, and ugly. And when you’re done – read this book.