In the vein of such classic family sagas as Fall on Your Knees, A Reunion of Ghosts is the confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves on the very last day of the 20th century; in it they tell the story of a family haunted by suicide ever since the sisters' great-grandfather, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist, developed the first poison gas used in warfare and also the lethal agent used in the Third Reich's gas chambers-inspired in part by the troubled life of Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of mustard gas.
How do three sisters write a single suicide note?
This is the riddle the Alter sisters-Lady, Vee, and Delph-pose at the outset of A Reunion of Ghosts while they finalize their plans to collectively end their lives on New Year's Eve, 1999. Their reasons are not theirs alone; proving that the sins of the fathers are indeed visited upon the children to the 3rd and 4th generations, the Jewish Alter family has been haunted by suicide ever since the sisters' great-grandfather, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Lenz Alter, developed the first poison gas used in warfare and also the lethal agent used in the gas chambers of the Third Reich, Zyklon B. Lenz and his wife Iris; their son Richard; and his children, Rose, Violet, and Dahlie; all took their own lives.
The bloodline stops with the childless sisters, Dahlie's children, who define themselves by their own bad luck. Lady, the oldest, is a once-promiscuous divorcée who never really resumed living after the split from her husband. Vee, the equanimous middle child, who found true love only to have it snatched away by a graphic act of violence, is now facing the return of her cancer. The youngest, Delph, is resigned to her life of spinsterhood and stifled dreams. But despite the shadows surrounding them, they love each other fiercely, and protect each other from the shadows of the past through a shared sense of dark, deeply brilliant humor.
As Lady, Vee, and Delph gather in the Upper West Side apartment in which they were raised to close the circle of the Alter curse, an epic and achingly human story-inspired in part by the troubled life of German-Jewish Fritz Haber, Nobel Prize winner and inventor of mustard gas-unfolds that is partly a wry and incisive memoir of three sisters unified by a singular burden, partly an unflinching eulogy of those who have gone before, and above all an intensely personal but also profound commentary on the events of the 20th century. As one of the characters remarks, "Too bad Lenz Alter didn't invent Prozac instead of chlorine gas; that probably would have saved them all."