For the most part, reviews for A Reunion of Ghosts have tapered off, but today I came across a new one from The Bookshop, a bookstore in England that looks just the way a book shop ought to:
I have to say that coming across a lovely review such as this during a week when I have been questioning everything including the worth of the work I do was very affirming. It reminded me that it is, indeed, important to put literature out into the world.
When I write, I try to live up to the exhortation of my professor, the late James Alan McPherson, who one day interrupted class to urge us to “consider writing about something important.” Those words changed me and my work. Ever since, I’ve tried to take risks and tackle the hard stuff. Thus, a first novel about genocide, a second that I consider to be a biography of the 20th century narrated by three suicidal (if wisecracking) sisters.
Jim also used to characterize all his work as failures, even his Pulitzer Prize winning work, even the work that won him a MacArthur genius award. He meant it, I think, in the sense that all art falls short, fails to achieve perfection, fails to live up to the vision we had for it when we began. Certainly, in that sense, my own work fails too, and it fails far more than Jim’s ever did. So it means a lot to know, imperfect though it may be, it touched someone.
Anyway, the review:
A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell is an absolutely astounding novel and I urge anyone and everyone to go and read it. I bought this book simply because of its pretty front cover, but it is so much more than that: a novel beautifully written – startlingly so in fact – and drew from me both tears of sadness and laughter on more than one occasion. The novel is written as a joint suicide note by three sisters whose great grandfather invented poison gas for the Germans during World War One. It is evocative and chilling, hilarious and devastating, and brutally questions the difference between truth and fiction, between meaning and coincidence. READ IT. Please.
Along with fellow Wisconsin authors Michael Perry and John P. Riordan, I spent a lovely morning with 75 supporters of Racine, Wisconsin’s public library at the Friends of the Library’s annual Breakfast with the Authors. I addressed the group and then got to chat with many of the attendees individually–including this budding author who showed me her own first book.
It’s a little hard to see, but the cover of my first novel includes the famous photograph taken on Armistice Day: 11/11 at 11am. (If you have a copy of the book–and bless you if you do!–the time can be seen on the clock tower.) That day the streets were filled with joyous Parisians and American G.I.s celebrating together.
The name of this novel, The Last Day of the War, is meant to be bitter and ironic. Nov. 11 was not really the last day of World War One. Not long after that Nov. 11, thanks to a flawed peace agreement that was overly punitive and that also preserved imperialism, the world would soon be at war again, this time involved in a conflict that would lead to the coining of the word “genocide.” And then there would be wars in Asia and in the Mideast and the wars we fight today. An endless state of warfare.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. in the midst of another bloody conflict, this one as old as the United States. I wish I believed in these words. I’m sorry to say that I don’t. At least this week, it seems to me the moral universe makes weak, sporadic appearances, then it sputters and stalls and gives way to a far more troubling, but very familiar universe.
Still, on this Veterans Day, I thank all those soldiers who fight over and over and over again for a just world, including those who came out to their city squares last night in response to the United States’ appalling election results. In my own city of Madison, those soldiers were 2,000 strong. “Very unfair,” pouted our president-elect until someone took his tweet toy away. I say to him: perhaps it is time for you to learn that this is what democracy looks like.
I’ll be driving to Racine tonight so I can get up bright and early tomorrow and head to the library, where the annual Friends of the Racine Library’s Breakfast with the Authors event takes place. Michael Perry, John P. Riordan, and I will be discussing our work and engaging with the audience. More info here.
Attention fiction writers! I’m excited to announce that I’ll be the guest fiction editor of the winter 2017 issue of the Israeli literary journal The Ilanot Review. The theme for the issue will be “Letters,” which we’re loosely interpreting to include epistolary stories of not only traditional letters, but of emails, text messages, or other forms of written communication that you think falls under this description. The submission period is February 1 through April 30.
Now, I don’t have complete say over the stories published in this issue; decisions will be made by editor-in-chief Janice Weizman, fiction editor Katie Green, and me. But I’d love to see work by students and friends (and, of course, any reader of this blog qualifies as a friend of mine!).
For more information about The Ilanot Review you can visit its website, where you’ll find general submission guidelines. As soon as the specific guidelines for the Letters issue are up, I’ll let you know. And if you have specific questions, feel free to direct them to me via my contact page.
Career Girl Daily ranks A Reunion of Ghosts number one in their list of must-read books. They say:
#1 A Reunion Of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell
The blurb can’t do this book justice. Simply put, this book is a shared confessional of three sisters who have decided to kill themselves at the end of the 20th century. Sounds depressing right? Well, no. These three sisters have an extraordinary family history, starting with the man who invented chemical weapons. I read the front and was a little skeptical of a book described as ‘devastating’ but when I read other reviews touting it as ‘flat-out funny’ and ‘hilarious’, I realized there’s more to this book than the blurb. It’s dark, fascinating and hilarious.
From Instagram: Someone’s cat and my book. The poster says the kitten was teething on the book, but it seems pretty clear to me she’s reading it…and probably nearsighted as well. Get the kitty some glasses, I say!
Spent the day off buried in paper. “A Reunion of Ghosts” by Judith Claire Mitchell —> so sad and bloody brilliant that the kitten tried to eat it. #areunionofghosts #bestboxdayever
I came across this today on a blog called Of Sage and Sepia. The blogger, an artist named Deb Mattin Desi, does what she calls “doodles.” Her current doodling project involves filling a book with a doodle a day. She writes: “Doodling is what this book is about–most pages have a prompt and some subtle background color or design, so there’s no dreaded white page. I’ve been stretching myself to put pen to paper on most days-either as a doodle or lettering…”
Her work reminds me of the approach folks such as my colleague Lynda Barry and my former grad student Oliver Baez Bendorf take to drawing, collaging, and cartooning. As is the case with Lynda and Oliver’s work, I found Deb’s blog inspiring, especially given a project I’ve had in mind since visiting the Galapagos in late July/early August that would blend story and visuals. I’ve loved drawing since I was a kid but was dissuaded from pursuing it because…well, I’m awful at it. (And now I hear Lynda chiding me as she does everyone who demeans their own drive to create art of any kind by constantly plaguing themselves with the two questions, “Is this good? Or does this suck?”)
Anyway, what I really wanted to say here is how happy it made me to see this particular doodle on Deb’s blog. In the caption Deb explains she began by cutting out a doll by another artist (the prompt), then doodling in the background and adding the quotation from A Reunion of Ghosts. Gotta say that it definitely doesn’t suck to come across something like this! Thanks, Deb.
The ten days I spent in Scotland, giving readings, meeting with book groups, visiting bookstores, and doing signings, was so much fun. A beautiful country full of warm, welcoming people. Dour Scots? I didn’t meet a single one. And haggis? Guys, that stuff rocks.
The main reason I went to Scotland was an invitation from the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The festival is held at Charlotte Square, a private park that opens its wrought iron gates for 17 days in August for the event. Tented buildings are erected along the perimeters for the readings, lectures, performances, and book sellers. The big bookstore where I signed books is to the left in the above photo. And the statue is of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. The photo captures a rare moment when a seagull was not sitting on his royal head.
Here are some more photos from my time in this beautiful country: