Jennifer Reese
October 18, 2006 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The Ghost at the Table

Current Status
In Season
Suzanne Berne
Algonquin Books

We gave it an A

Suzanne Berne’s delicious Ghost at the Table begins as narrator Cynthia Fiske — a 40ish, never-married writer — agrees to visit her sister, Frances, for Thanksgiving on one condition: ”That we don’t get into a lot of old stuff.” As if. Cynthia — historically the chubby, less-beloved sister — harbors understandably mixed feelings about Frances, a willowy domestic goddess with a devoted husband, two daughters, and a rustic Massachusetts farmhouse. But since the suspicious death of their mother when they were teens — and their father’s subsequent marriage to their nubile tutor — the sisters have bonded over a shared interpretation of their saga.

Until, perhaps, now. To Cynthia’s surprise, Frances arranges for the loathed patriarch to stay and seems to have embraced a revised family story that partially exonerates him. With the lightest of touches, Berne turns a witty tale of holiday dysfunction into a transfixing borderline gothic, her appealing heroine into an unreliable narrator seething with decades-old resentment.

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