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THE GHOST AT THE TABLE by Suzanne Berne Kirkus Star


by Suzanne Berne

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 2006
ISBN: 1-56512-334-4
Publisher: Algonquin

Rivaling sisters search for family truths over a Thanksgiving holiday.

Frances Fiske longs for harmony and decides to host a blowout dinner to reunite her estranged family. In her quest for unity, Frances packs the house with high-wattage conflict. When three generations of the Fiske family gather, tempers flair and skeletons begin tumbling out of closets. Out of pity and a sense of obligation, Cynthia Fiske flies east from her sequestered life as a writer to join in her sister’s feast. Coming home stirs up bitter memories of a lonely childhood for Cynthia. She narrates the story and at first seems to be a reliable source for learning about the Fiskes’ dirty little secrets. Cynthia talks of Frances’s rocky marriage, Frances’s reckless teenage daughters, Frances’s Martha Stewart–like obsession with interior-design perfection. Cynthia relays tales of their mother’s mysterious death and their father’s romantic indiscretions. A maelstrom develops in the days leading up to the big meal. All the combustible energy makes for a great read as Cynthia and Frances battle it out to preserve a particular view of their childhood. Berne (A Crime in the Neighborhood, 1997, etc.) challenges the reader to pick a side. Cynthia’s paranoia creeps through her storytelling and Frances’s imperious nature furthers the chaos and miscommunications, making it tough to know whom to trust. Sampling from a few genres—mystery, historical fiction, chick lit and psychological thriller—Berne cooks up a literary feast. Her tactile descriptions and enigmatic characters saturate the story and provide a filling repast. The plot can be frustrating at times—it’s a struggle to discern past from present and truth from fiction. But this is intentional. Berne prefers questions to answers.

This substantial tale of a dysfunctional family reunion promises a holiday, and a read, to remember.