'Ghost Lover' book review: The sisterhood of travails & pangs

A collection of short stories that scratches beneath the seemingly surface-level female friendships.

Published: 07th August 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 06th August 2022 09:24 PM   |  A+A-

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Express News Service

If you’ve watched 'Dead to Me' on Netflix, you somewhat know what being bound by tragedy looks like. The two middle-aged protagonists (Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini) hold each other’s hands, through tears and curses, despite their friendship being based on a web of lies. It is an unlikely friendship, which is more than just the airy demonstrations of hugging and binge drinking. That’s what one discovers in Lisa Taddeo’s latest short story collection, Ghost Lover

There are many women in her stories who resent their circumstances, but they are taken care of, nevertheless, by other women. Taddeo portrays the deteriorating lives of her protagonists by attaching a gaze of sympathy, quite contrary to her fellow writer Ottessa Moshfegh, who instantly comes to mind while reading Ghost Lover. Moshfegh’s writing, like Taddeo, focuses on female friendships, most remarkably in My Year of Rest and Relaxation, but she doesn’t give the relationship a large room to spill. It appears stagnant.

Taddeo’s characters, on the other hand, are different. They, along with them their relationships, take a life of their own. Beneath the comforting gestures, there are cunning glances, but jealousy is also part of a long-term friendship. 

We usually stand by our friends through thick and thin, wishing that they’ll do the same for us. Ghost Lover has that quality. Here’s an exquisite sentence from ‘A Suburban Weekend’ that explains the kind of friendship that’s shared by the two women, “Where Liv liked to imagine perfect marriages because they made her feel she would someday have one too, Fern liked to expose the rot at the bottom of the bowl of organic vegetables.”

Fern and Liv are definitely not two peas in a pod. But that doesn’t matter. Similarly, in ‘Air Supply’, two women go to Puerto Rico on a trip and have great fun by jumping on unprepared plans. And in ‘Padua, 1966’––which has the footprints of (French writer) Leïla Slimani’s Adele a woman who initially runs away from her daughter, begins to miss her later. 

Apart from the broad strokes of friendship, Ghost Lover also homes in on the sadness that plagues the characters in one form or another. They’re either missing their dead parents or their nonexistent boyfriends. “In Grace Magorian’s 16th year, she’d learned what true love was and, just as quickly, accepted that it was not for her.” This is a line that one reads over and over again to come to grips with what Magorian was sorely worrying about. All that she wants to do is to not die alone.

Ah, Magorian is really not the only person who hates that idea. Imagine having nobody to watch television with, while having dinner on a weekend, or having no company to get lost with on a hiking trail. Taddeo captures such moments of tenderness and heartbreak in almost all her stories, even though some of them are forgettable. The plots seem unimportant in Ghost Lover. You won’t take your nose out of the book with the arrogance of having grasped the intricacies of human nature. But you’ll get a sense that it’s okay to be sad and even try to make an attempt to tackle that demon by finding a partner.

Coupledom also has its own problems. It’s debatable whether Magorian would’ve been happier with a man by her side. And as one plough on to piece together the desires of Taddeo’s men and women, they find that she was leaving stray bits of hope here and there. Love is a slippery slope, which makes it one of the hardest places to set up a tent on. You have to make sure that it’s worth the hassle. 

Ghost Lover
By: Lisa Taddeo
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 240
Price: Rs 550

India Matters


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