These Ghosts are Family, by Maisy Card

The Paisley family has problems with its fathers. And its mothers. The children have a few problems, too. Freud might argue with me, but I trace the problems of the Paisleys of Maisy Card’s These Ghosts are Family to the fathers. The first family story contains the revelation that Abel Paisley stole a friend’s identity and ran away from his first family. In his dotage, Abel has gathered his three daughters to tell them the truth. From there, we’re off and running through two hundred years of the family’s history, from colonial Jamaica to contemporary New York.

These Ghosts are Family is a novel formatted in link short stories that travel back and forth in time. Thankfully, there’s a family tree at the beginning of the book. I bookmarked it so that I could flip back to it when a new relative was introduced. The various family members wrestle with feelings of resentment against missing relatives; the missing relatives feel a lot of guilt for having absconded. This book doesn’t argue that parents are always necessary. The parents who stay put are often awful, from the rapacious plantation owner to the drug addicted mother. Instead, I feel that These Ghosts are Family is telling one long story (in parts) of the ways that we influence each other—mostly for the worse.

What interested me most about These Ghosts are Family—apart from the dysfunctional family dynamics—was how it revealed the history of Jamaica. It makes sense. The Jamaica we know is, at least in part, the product of dysfunctional relationship with a paternal colonizer (England). The early stories about Abel and his wife show how colorism creates artificial social boundaries and expectations. Several of the stories reflect how Jamaicans and other people from the Caribbean leave the islands, seeking good pay, only to find that they are expected to do hard, degrading jobs for little money. The stories set furthest back in time are particularly hard to read because they deal with the horrors of chattel slavery. It was fascinating to see how the Paisleys were affected by history and family.

These Ghosts are Family is brilliantly written. I really liked that each story felt distinct and necessary to the overall narrative at the same time. There are no wasted words in These Ghosts are Family. I also liked that the characters are completely believable—tricky considering how much psychology there is in this book. This book will definitely be a hit with readers who like stories about dysfunctional families.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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