These Ghosts Are Family is Maisy Card’s debut novel that features a multi-generational narration from 1700s to 2000s.
These Ghosts Are Family opens with the revelation of Stanford Solomon’s three decade long secret- he is not who he says he is. Thirty years ago, Stanford Solomon, who is actually Abel Paisley assumed the identity of his best friend, Solomon who died during a work accident. Abel who was working in England at the time used the death of his friend as an opportunity to assume a new identity and sever the relationship he had with his wife and children back home in Jamaica. With age and knowing he doesn’t have long to life Abel reaches out to the daughter he left back in Jamaica. Irene Paisley, a home health aide shows up to attend to a man who turns out to be the father she’s mourned all her life.
It is through Abel’s revelation that we see a sequence of events that spans the 1700s to present day. Maisy Card introduces us to the Paisley family tree at the beginning of the book and we see how each person is touched in some way by Abel’s decision to fake his death. There are those “ghosts” who precedes Abel, and not being able to break those generational curses, Abel ends up going down a path to which there is no return. We see how these “curses” are played out in the lives of those he left behind in Jamaica, his wife Vera, his children, and the lives of those who knows Abel as Stanford Solomon.
I think this was a very ambitious book, in some ways it paid off and in other ways it did not. Here is what worked for me:
- The individual stories of the Paisley family. I felt that Card really showed in a unique way how the decision of Abel affected those around him. There was no shortage of trauma or struggle for each character due to the lack of a father figure or being raised by a single mother. I felt that Card did a great job of showcasing how we are all “haunted” in different ways by different things. This was clear when Vincent, who is Vera’s brother commented that all Vera remembers is the bad and that how his mother treated her “wasn’t bad”. I could not get enough of the effects of how one man’s decision chartered the course of those around him.
- The authenticity and research of the book. I loved how authentic the book felt. As a Jamaican I am always keen to read books that feel Jamaican and I felt Card did a great job of capturing all the cultural and historical nuances of Jamaica and Jamaicans. I particularly loved her use of Patois in the book- it was just right and it felt real and not overdone. There was also the use of Folklore, which tied in perfectly with the book.
- The freshness and intoxicating read. I devoured this book; I could not stop reading it. For a debut novel it was very strong and well written for the most part. I know people who are not familiar with Patois might struggle a bit but that does not take away from how great the writing is in this book.
While I enjoyed the book, there are some things that did not work for me:
- I felt the book was not as cohesive enough and would have worked better as a short story collection. The transitions in POV felt jarring at some points and in general the book would have read better as a collection of individual stories as opposed to one story. There were times where someone persons who were not on the Paisley family tree, but they were featured a lot in the book.
- While I get the “Homegoing” reference in that we hear from one person at the beginning of the book but we don’t necessarily hear from them as the story continues with the following generation. I felt this was not as seamlessly executed as I wanted it to be. At some points it worked, but other times I had to keep flipping back to the family tree to piece together who is talking and where they fall in the grand scheme of things. I also wanted to hear more from Abel.
- Earlier I said the book was ambitious and what I mean by that is, it tried to do a lot. In some instances it worked but in other instances I was left wondering, “did I miss something?”. This book easily needed 100-150 more pages to properly build out where Card wanted to go. I felt the ending was very abrupt and I am still not sure what happened there.
- While I get the reference to “ghost” I felt that Card really beat us over the head with the inclusion of some form of ghost or haunting in each chapter. I could have done with a little easing up from the ghost narrative.
Overall, a really solid debut novel. I really enjoyed reading it and the “what did not work” really did not take away in a big way because I was utterly enthralled with the Paisley family tree. I am so excited to read more from Card because she’s got a strong, very distinct voice that I know I will never get tired of hearing from.
I highly recommend picking this book up