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Ghost Songs: A Memoir

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Eighteen-year-old Regina McBride is haunted by the ghosts of her parents. Her father visits her—he is desperate, but she doesn’t know how to help him. Her mother is a quiet figure, obscured by light—a flash at the foot of the bed. Regina, raised Irish Catholic and with the ironclad belief that some sins are unforgivable, fears her parents are trapped between worlds, foreve Eighteen-year-old Regina McBride is haunted by the ghosts of her parents. Her father visits her—he is desperate, but she doesn’t know how to help him. Her mother is a quiet figure, obscured by light—a flash at the foot of the bed. Regina, raised Irish Catholic and with the ironclad belief that some sins are unforgivable, fears her parents are trapped between worlds, forever punished after they committed suicide within a few months of each other. Terrorized by these visitations and flattened by grief, Regina slowly begins her hazardous journey to recovery. Lyrical and lovely, harrowing and haunting, Ghost Songs charts her struggle to separate madness from imagination and sorrow from devastation. From New York to the desert of New Mexico to the shores of Ireland, Regina searches for herself, her home, and a way to return to the family that remains. Ghost Songs is an exploration of memory, a meditation on love and loss, and, in the end, a celebration of life and the living.


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Eighteen-year-old Regina McBride is haunted by the ghosts of her parents. Her father visits her—he is desperate, but she doesn’t know how to help him. Her mother is a quiet figure, obscured by light—a flash at the foot of the bed. Regina, raised Irish Catholic and with the ironclad belief that some sins are unforgivable, fears her parents are trapped between worlds, foreve Eighteen-year-old Regina McBride is haunted by the ghosts of her parents. Her father visits her—he is desperate, but she doesn’t know how to help him. Her mother is a quiet figure, obscured by light—a flash at the foot of the bed. Regina, raised Irish Catholic and with the ironclad belief that some sins are unforgivable, fears her parents are trapped between worlds, forever punished after they committed suicide within a few months of each other. Terrorized by these visitations and flattened by grief, Regina slowly begins her hazardous journey to recovery. Lyrical and lovely, harrowing and haunting, Ghost Songs charts her struggle to separate madness from imagination and sorrow from devastation. From New York to the desert of New Mexico to the shores of Ireland, Regina searches for herself, her home, and a way to return to the family that remains. Ghost Songs is an exploration of memory, a meditation on love and loss, and, in the end, a celebration of life and the living.

30 review for Ghost Songs: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 We first meet the author when she is in a psychiatric ward, grief stricken, unable to stop crying, after the death of both her parents within five months of each other. It is the manner of their death that also preys on mind, her religious beliefs that intrude and the ghosts of those now gone that cause her fright. are they real and if so what do they want? Beautifully written, short pages or paragraphs, almost prose style, haunting and effective. her present life as she tries to move forward 3.5 We first meet the author when she is in a psychiatric ward, grief stricken, unable to stop crying, after the death of both her parents within five months of each other. It is the manner of their death that also preys on mind, her religious beliefs that intrude and the ghosts of those now gone that cause her fright. are they real and if so what do they want? Beautifully written, short pages or paragraphs, almost prose style, haunting and effective. her present life as she tries to move forward, her two younger sisters and the responsibility she feels towards them but is not able to live up to. Alternating between present and past, in the past we share in her memories good and bad. Her disintegrating home life, her very unlikable nanna and we get glimpses of how things ended up the way they did. poignant, moving but although I was unable to look away , admired the gorgeous writing, I never really felt this in my heart. Glimpses were just not enough. Still a very interesting read, I loved her descriptions of the places she visited in Ireland, and loved that she never stopped trying, just wish I had felt more of a connection. ARC from Netgalley.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lolly K Dandeneau

    “Je reviens,” I imagine him saying. I shall return to you.” This memoir has a disjointed quality that works beautifully. Somehow, this makes the reader feel as if they too are experiencing McBride’s state of mind. I caught my breath thinking of the loss of her parents to the ‘sin’ of suicide. I felt consumed by the beast of grief that was weighing on her soul. Time jumps, and the telling isn’t a clear timeline- which makes the chaos of memory and feeling more vivid. Childhood memories flicker in “Je reviens,” I imagine him saying. I shall return to you.” This memoir has a disjointed quality that works beautifully. Somehow, this makes the reader feel as if they too are experiencing McBride’s state of mind. I caught my breath thinking of the loss of her parents to the ‘sin’ of suicide. I felt consumed by the beast of grief that was weighing on her soul. Time jumps, and the telling isn’t a clear timeline- which makes the chaos of memory and feeling more vivid. Childhood memories flicker in and out, as they do for most people. We don’t often think in a timely order, and when tragedy strikes we can’t control what we remember of our loved ones. I think of her mother’s ‘upsets’ and how it sits with a child even into adulthood when we shuck off our youth. It’s heavy… love. Regina is struggling out of an abyss. She is visited by her parent’s ghosts, but aren’t our memories ghosts too? She is searching but for what? To understand? To find her parents and know they aren’t damned? Breaking inside, disconnecting from the loved ones that remain, fighting beliefs, trying to make sense of the senseless- it is more than loss. Regina takes not just a physical journey, but an internal one. Who is to blame for what happened? Does it matter when it’s done? I found the many incidents heartbreaking, imaging the people who are supposed to be your rock losing their grip. Be it illness or circumstance, and I do feel for the parents too, but it’s different for children. It changes you living with unstable parents, and the love, there is still this intense love that is a mass of confusion in the mind. Love, resentment, hurt, shame… we love the damaged sometimes more intensely, because we spend so much time trying to understand. Reading that her father was a dreamer, how did he get from there to such a dark place. It’s all moments, isn’t it? Life. Moments. It is a hard review to write. This is an emotional memoir, it is heavy and yet somehow promising too. She is absent, but she knows… there is still love, living to be done, a family… she still has a family. Visit my blog: https://bookstalkerblog.wordpress.com/ Tin House Books Publication Date: October 4, 2016

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joan

    This book shows so well how fragile is the line between imagination and reality, when influenced by childhood beliefs and personal tragedy. It is the story of a young, wandering soul seeking some comfort in the world of her grandparents, and finally coming to grips with the fact that, while difficult, she can learn to bear loss, and cling to what is important in the here and now. It is a tale both tragic and hopeful, sad and uplifting. Ms. McBride's prose, like that of the naturalist Sigurd Olson's This book shows so well how fragile is the line between imagination and reality, when influenced by childhood beliefs and personal tragedy. It is the story of a young, wandering soul seeking some comfort in the world of her grandparents, and finally coming to grips with the fact that, while difficult, she can learn to bear loss, and cling to what is important in the here and now. It is a tale both tragic and hopeful, sad and uplifting. Ms. McBride's prose, like that of the naturalist Sigurd Olson's, often reads more like poetry.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Chlarson

    I had gone to the library to pick up another memoir when the title of Ghost Songs caught my eye and from the moment I picked the book up I was captivated. I tend to stray away from memoirs because they have never been a category I enjoy and they usually make me extremely bored, but Regina McBride had a very interesting and unique story to tell and she kept my interest throughout the whole book. There was a lot about McBrides memoir that I enjoyed. I really liked the storyline, it was mesmerizing I had gone to the library to pick up another memoir when the title of Ghost Songs caught my eye and from the moment I picked the book up I was captivated. I tend to stray away from memoirs because they have never been a category I enjoy and they usually make me extremely bored, but Regina McBride had a very interesting and unique story to tell and she kept my interest throughout the whole book. There was a lot about McBrides memoir that I enjoyed. I really liked the storyline, it was mesmerizing to read about her time in the mental hospital, her background/childhood, and her parents, all while she experienced seeing the ghosts of her parents. McBride’s writing style was unique because she would transition between her time in the mental hospital and the past by writing in short, concise paragraphs often only containing a couple sentences, these paragraphs were sectioned off with a simple dot in between. The writing style made it fun to read because it kept me reading to find out more and it kept up a sense of mystery. I also loved McBride’s use of rhetorical devices such as dialogue, tone, foreshadowing, and metaphors. The dialogue within the memoir made it easier for her to communicate certain parts of her life, her various tones within the story made it easier to connect to the story emotionally- she had me laughing, crying, and feeling frustrated, and her clever use of foreshadowing and metaphors told her story beyond what was read at face value. My favorite part of this memoir was that she was honest about mental illnesses and suicide, she was willing to write about the raw, emotional parts of her life surrounding these topics in order to shine a light on the importance of mental health and suicide. Overall, this memoir was awesome and met the requirements for a memoir: used I, me, my, etc., the memoirist was the main character, I could envision myself in the plot, and it read as literature not a report. The only thing I did not like about this book was the sometimes seemingly unimportant information she sometimes included. Certain aspects of her memoir felt forced and exaggerated which detracted from the story. She also repeated a lot of the information just in different ways which got a little aggravating to read. This small annoyance did not detract from the overall story, so I was still able to read it and enjoy it. I had a couple questions after finishing McBride's memoir. Did her mother actually intend on shooting her sister or is that just how she remembered it? Was she actually seeing her parents' ghosts or was it just post traumatic stress and that is how her brain helped her deal with their suicides? This book was raw and emotional and I loved it. McBride did a wonderful job making readers feel what she felt and see what she saw. This memoir is likely for more mature readers, so I probably wouldn't use it in my classroom unless a student requested to read it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kim

    really fascinating, impressive memoir. the line between reality and enchantment is so blurred, and so well done.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    I never wanted this mesmerizing book to end. McBride’s absolutely genuine first-person voice weaves back and forth, interlacing moments and scenes from her early childhood in New York State and New Mexico, the years in college, the psych ward, and Ireland and back again, in and out. As a reader, I never foresee what’s coming next, just follow along in the hypnotic slipstream of McBride’s words. Are the ghosts she perceives really there? Whether they are actual materiality or part of a psychosis I never wanted this mesmerizing book to end. McBride’s absolutely genuine first-person voice weaves back and forth, interlacing moments and scenes from her early childhood in New York State and New Mexico, the years in college, the psych ward, and Ireland and back again, in and out. As a reader, I never foresee what’s coming next, just follow along in the hypnotic slipstream of McBride’s words. Are the ghosts she perceives really there? Whether they are actual materiality or part of a psychosis doesn’t really matter, I believe her when she sees them, and so will you. There is not an iota of artifice in the telling, but poetry in every line.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    Disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy from Tin House Books. At first I struggled with the rhythm of this book. The almost stream of consciousness narrative jumps back and forth in time and sometimes left me confused about where and when I was. Eventually, I got the hang of it and generally could follow the author's shifts. The writing here is like poetry. Many of the brief segments could almost be stand-alone poems as they recount a moment of heartbreaking beauty, warmth, or tragedy. I Disclosure: I received an advance reader's copy from Tin House Books. At first I struggled with the rhythm of this book. The almost stream of consciousness narrative jumps back and forth in time and sometimes left me confused about where and when I was. Eventually, I got the hang of it and generally could follow the author's shifts. The writing here is like poetry. Many of the brief segments could almost be stand-alone poems as they recount a moment of heartbreaking beauty, warmth, or tragedy. I found particularly moving Regina's failed attempts at being a parent to her orphaned younger sister. Looking at them through the future lens of her parents' suicides, the crisp recollections of simple childhood memories are also incredibly poignant. The author is very skilled at presenting you with the events, giving you little of her own interpretations or conclusions, and yet the reader still viscerally feels Regina's self-recrimination, doubt, loneliness, and loss. The subtle unfolding of her family's struggles with mental illness gives context to this inter-generational entropy. The repeated religious reminiscences were a somewhat less successful theme as they seemed to repetitively reinforce the basic concepts that the family was very Catholic and that they believed suicide a mortal sin. The memoir doesn't extend beyond Regina's 18th or 19th years, which I understand is a cleaner way of encapsulating the very immediate struggles with her dysfunctional family life and the fallout from her parents' suicides. However, as it is a memoir, I found myself very curious about the adult Regina McBride, who I discovered is a successful author and also a wife and mother. I found myself wondering how she reconciled her deep fear of abandonment with married love. I wondered how her grandmother and her parents' mental illness affected her ability and choice to parent. I wondered about her shift from theater to writing. Maybe Regina will find cause to tell other stories from other chapters in her life that will reflect back on her years of haunted youth.

  8. 5 out of 5

    K.N.

    Like photos from a family album, Regina McBride shares her story one moving memory at a time. She introduces the reader to her family in small vignettes, eases us into a mood of foreboding and the inevitability of her family tragedy. Only 18 years old, Regina must face adulthood after her parents’ example that adulthood is unbearable. She is haunted not only by the ghosts of her parents, but the ghost of her Irish heritage and the ghost of a supportive family unit. She travels to Ireland hoping t Like photos from a family album, Regina McBride shares her story one moving memory at a time. She introduces the reader to her family in small vignettes, eases us into a mood of foreboding and the inevitability of her family tragedy. Only 18 years old, Regina must face adulthood after her parents’ example that adulthood is unbearable. She is haunted not only by the ghosts of her parents, but the ghost of her Irish heritage and the ghost of a supportive family unit. She travels to Ireland hoping to quiet these family spirits but her journey is more a drifting to find direction, any direction but despair. Her story captures the power of cultural heritage and its influence on a family’s spirit. She addresses the curious bereavement of Irish descendants for a motherland they’ve often never seen or weren’t even born in. While this melancholy is sometimes considered poetic, her childhood memories suggest it was the seeds of her family’s destruction. Melancholy ties each vignette together, but her story does not drown in sadness. Regina’s resilient spirit strives to reconcile her grief and her relationship with her siblings. While loss is almost a character in the story, it’s a spirit that both breaks her heart and urges her to find hope in living life.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    One dividend that comes from reviewing a wide spectrum of books (particularly when starting out) is that occasionally I discover a completely unexpected positive experience. Case in point: Tin House sends out a general call for interested readers in advanced review copies. I respond, with no particular idea of what they will send. But reading their literary journal regularly, I know to at least expect quality, whatever it may be. It's what I precisely like about them, they publish a wide range o One dividend that comes from reviewing a wide spectrum of books (particularly when starting out) is that occasionally I discover a completely unexpected positive experience. Case in point: Tin House sends out a general call for interested readers in advanced review copies. I respond, with no particular idea of what they will send. But reading their literary journal regularly, I know to at least expect quality, whatever it may be. It's what I precisely like about them, they publish a wide range of content, not eschewing genre, so long as it's good. — And in my mail arrives Ghost Songs: A Memoir by Regina McBride. I think I audibly sighed in disappointment. Of all the possibilities, I got one of the few kinds of literary works that I didn't think I could appreciate much, even if done exceptionally well. I appreciate history and biography. My skepticism rises a bit if it's an autobiography. But memoir? I actually don't know as I've ever before read anything that qualifies as memoir. It has always seemed suspect to me — too loose in its organization, style, and possibly even facts. I didn't know a single thing about the author, so I looked in hopes that perhaps the topics/themes would be something familiarly enticing. But I saw things like: Ireland, poetry, mental health... sigh. Most of the description left me indifferent, but poetry — I rarely seem to feel emotional connection or resonance with poetry. — Nevertheless, I picked this memoir up and began reading, convincing myself that at the very least I would have a new experience, a chance to learn and momentarily extend my zone of reading comfort. Against all my intuition, I rapidly became engrossed in McBride's beautiful, reflective writing, in a world of unfamiliar thoughts and experiences far from the focus of my typical reading. The cover blurb by Alice Sebold is definitely hyperbole. But the sentiment is  precisely accurate. In Ghost Songs McBride weaves a tapestry of family, individuality, culture, and grief with a melancholy, fragile prose. Organized frequently as short paragraphs, her phrases echo the flow and tide of memory, driven by association and sense rather than time. — The memoir begins with an eighteen-year-old McBride, talking to a psychologist about the ghosts that haunt her, the uncertainty of who she is, and the weight of genetics and experience that define her. McBride's parents both died by their own hands, suicides separated by a mere five months, mother following father. Coming from a culture of strict Irish Catholicism, the McBrides all share common pressures of guilt, depression, and a frequent struggle to continue on. Regarding the moment after her father's suicide McBride writes: "I sit on the floor of my old bedroom, listening to my mother on the phone in her room making funeral arrangements. My father has done something irreparable. There is a new trajectory in place. Every cell and every particle around me knows how things will end. Every bright dust mote rushing through the sunlight and disappearing in shadow rings with inevitability. The house, the furniture, the trees, my brother and my sisters, even my mother — we all know, but it is not possible to accept this and keep going.” — (p. 90). — The mention of 'every cell and every particle' in this quote bears specific mention. One of the recurring themes in Ghost Songs that did resonate with me (because of my science background surely) is McBride's use of the molecular — in some instances more precisely quantum — as metaphor. In spots, the concept is utilized for viewing events as composed of an infinite number of smaller moments, paring down burdensome trials into short, bearable units. Even if tragedy makes this hard to achieve. “...‘When you work on a play, you have to look at the dramatic arc. You break it down into manageable parts, into beats. See how every event leads to the next.’ …But it is as though each death were an explosion that erased the connections between things. In my mind a fizzing whiteness hovers, particles refusing to settle.” — (p. 85). — Yet it is poetry that seems to be the most effective means of coping that McBride can utilize to find comfort and feel peace from the ghosts of her past. Given her Irish heritage this comes particularly from the poetry of Yeats and the mythology of her homeland. Ghost Songs culminates with McBride's pilgrimage to Ireland and the self discoveries she makes there while searching for a personal Tír na nÓg. In poetic irony, this comfort ultimately comes from the same source as all of her pain: genetic and cultural inheritance, with her father's appreciation of poetry. Recalling a moment with him, McBride describes a mosquito landing on her father and his allowing it to bite him. McBride then crushes it and her father comments: “Some of that is your blood” — (p. 232). He then references The Flea, a poem by John Donne. McBride relates: “I tremble with hopefulness, the lines suggesting a closeness between the poem and the person being addressed. A poem might help heal the rift between us.” — (p. 232). — I don't think I ever completely emotionally connected to elements of Ghost Songs as many readers might. Those with a fascination/experience with Irish American culture, with Yeats, or those who suffer from depression or other related issues might find the memoir strongly resonant. Nevertheless, I could see, feel, and believe the emotional effects these elements have on McBride. I won't be chasing after more memoirs to read, but I'm certainly more open to trying them than I was previously, and I'm reminded of how beneficial it can be to just give something a try, no matter the preconceived notions. I will certainly recognize the name Regina McBride when I see it again, and I will gladly dig into the writing it appears above. As long as it's not poetry. Well, maybe even then. “A particular memory preoccupies me… My father is lost and doesn’t know where to go.” — (pp. 3 - 4). “I sit up in the darkness in my room in Dublin and cry because I miss my mother. I cry because my mother died without a face.” — (p. 290). — Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Stochl

    Ghosts Songs is a beautiful and heartbreaking book all about Regina McBride's life broken into sections and told as one major story even when it is seen in pieces. Each of the five parts deals with a different and significant part of her journey and each includes pieces of her history that join together to show that life is more than just our current circumstances and that it combines everything we have ever experienced to make us who we are. Though it may be sometimes difficult to know exactly Ghosts Songs is a beautiful and heartbreaking book all about Regina McBride's life broken into sections and told as one major story even when it is seen in pieces. Each of the five parts deals with a different and significant part of her journey and each includes pieces of her history that join together to show that life is more than just our current circumstances and that it combines everything we have ever experienced to make us who we are. Though it may be sometimes difficult to know exactly what point of her life you are reading, it always adds to the story and the reality of living with a past. Beautifully written and emotional, you can't help but feel along with the author as she comes to realize more of the tragedies of her past. *I received an advanced readers copy of this book for free through a goodreads giveaway in return for an open and honest review.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    I didn't know what to expect when I started Ghost Songs, but McBride quickly drew me in and held me until the book was done. The non-linear structure of the memoir mirrors her chaotic childhood and young adulthood. While sometimes that structure can make the story difficult to follow, McBride masters it. The book wouldn't have had the same impact if she had told it chronologically. Her disjointed storytelling makes the traumatizing events she's lived through all the more haunting and immersive. I didn't know what to expect when I started Ghost Songs, but McBride quickly drew me in and held me until the book was done. The non-linear structure of the memoir mirrors her chaotic childhood and young adulthood. While sometimes that structure can make the story difficult to follow, McBride masters it. The book wouldn't have had the same impact if she had told it chronologically. Her disjointed storytelling makes the traumatizing events she's lived through all the more haunting and immersive.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Erica

    I wasn't sure what to expect with this book based on the description, but I ended up enjoying it. The non-linear style was interesting and doesn't take long to get used to so you feel more 'in the mind' of the writer. The tragic events of the writers life are provided with just enough detail for one to feel as though they were experiencing the events with her but not so much that it seems like an invasion of something intensely personal. Overall, a good read that I will recommend to others. I wasn't sure what to expect with this book based on the description, but I ended up enjoying it. The non-linear style was interesting and doesn't take long to get used to so you feel more 'in the mind' of the writer. The tragic events of the writers life are provided with just enough detail for one to feel as though they were experiencing the events with her but not so much that it seems like an invasion of something intensely personal. Overall, a good read that I will recommend to others.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Achingly, beautifully written. I loved the back and forth writing style, which could have been quite difficult to read, but the author mastered it. The writing style is almost a character. An emotional read, but well worth it. I couldn't stop myself. Well written. I received this as a Goodreads Giveaway. Achingly, beautifully written. I loved the back and forth writing style, which could have been quite difficult to read, but the author mastered it. The writing style is almost a character. An emotional read, but well worth it. I couldn't stop myself. Well written. I received this as a Goodreads Giveaway.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    One of my favorites; this book should be way more popular than it is.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Liralen

    I am still a child when I find out that neither of my parents has actually ever been to Ireland and I wonder how they can love and miss a place their ancestors left before they were born. Yet somehow I understand. And even though I am young, the idea of Ireland fills me with an inexplicable nostalgia, as if it belonged to me once and I somehow lost it. (13) McBride's memoir is a haunting one, something of a ghost story and something of a love story. She and her siblings were teenagers when first I am still a child when I find out that neither of my parents has actually ever been to Ireland and I wonder how they can love and miss a place their ancestors left before they were born. Yet somehow I understand. And even though I am young, the idea of Ireland fills me with an inexplicable nostalgia, as if it belonged to me once and I somehow lost it. (13) McBride's memoir is a haunting one, something of a ghost story and something of a love story. She and her siblings were teenagers when first her father, then her mother—months apart—committed suicide. Ghost Songs is a reckoning of their story. It's told in vignettes, some only a sentence or two long, weaving back and forth through time. I'm impressed by how grounded McBride keeps the reader—there's never a question of when or where a particular vignette takes place. It's skillful. Childhood bleeding into teenagedom, parents alive and more or less happy, parents spiralling out of control, off in college, people dying, off in Ireland, back and forth and around. I ask my father once, when I am eleven or twelve, if we will ever visit Ireland. "No," he replies, taken aback. The impression I have from the silence that follows is that it is too rarefied and unreachable a place. (122) McBride learned from her parents parts of Irish history and lore. She describes learning about Tír na nÓg, or "the land where there is no pain or sorrow" (16). The Otherworld. Only later in the story do we wonder about that call, the draw that her father must have felt, and the reasons her parents were so unhappy, so desperate. I wonder why my family did not leave New Mexico, and why it was that Ireland felt like an unachievable dream. (127–128) McBride doesn't do much speculation about her parents' deaths. She asks questions, sometimes, but rarely tries to answer them. I suspect this is in part because the book was written years after their deaths, and she'd had more time to come to terms with not knowing, but...it's hard not to speculate, isn't it? The stories she tells are of unhappy relationships and unhappy people; her grandmother's possible dementia (not named as such); her mother's possible mental illness (also not named as such); her father's possible alcoholism (again...not named as such). It doesn't really matter what they're called; the end result is the same. Two unhappy people in New Mexico. Four devastated children. Later, McBride describes an experience she had with a friend made in a hostel in Ireland. Brigitte, from Germany and without much English, lit candles in a church for two people, dear to her but dead. Perhaps she did not wish to explain, or perhaps her English was not up to the task. Either way, she got on a bus and McBride, as far as is evident, never learned what story might be there. And that about sums it up, doesn't it? We can't always know. "I feel I've let my father down," I say. He asks me how my father died, and the answer comes, almost too easily, out of my mouth. "He shot himself." He is silent for a few moments and then asks, "You're worried that you let your father down? After the unforgivable thing he did to you?" My heart riots. "I know that Catholics think that suicide..." "I'm not talking about a sin against God. I've no interest in that. Do you have siblings?" "Yes." He rolls his eyes. "I'm talking about a sin against his own children." (289) There's all this grief, messy and raw—not so much raw in the writing, but raw in the descriptions. An older sister trying to take care of her younger sisters and failing because she is so deep, still, in her own grief that she cannot conceive of clawing herself out. A desperate and yet reluctant quest to find the Ireland her father spoke of, because somehow that might give her peace. Ghosts. I puzzled over the ghosts in the beginning, not because I doubted them but because I didn't, and I wanted to understand how McBride managed, describing herself in hospital with doctors prescribing her antipsychotics so she would stop seeing those ghosts, to make me believe without question that there was something there. Ghost songs indeed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Valerie

    GHOST SONGS by Regina McBride A Perfect Title for a Haunting, Lyrical Memoir When I was eighteen and pregnant, my dad killed himself. I didn’t fear that he was trapped between worlds or wouldn’t go to heaven. I hadn’t been brought up Catholic like Regina McBride and had not been taught that suffering is admirable. I still had my mother and family, although only for a short time because suicide wreaks havoc on a family. Regina lost both her dad and mother to suicide only months apart. No family ca GHOST SONGS by Regina McBride A Perfect Title for a Haunting, Lyrical Memoir When I was eighteen and pregnant, my dad killed himself. I didn’t fear that he was trapped between worlds or wouldn’t go to heaven. I hadn’t been brought up Catholic like Regina McBride and had not been taught that suffering is admirable. I still had my mother and family, although only for a short time because suicide wreaks havoc on a family. Regina lost both her dad and mother to suicide only months apart. No family can withstand such a loss and betrayal without fracturing, but each family member usually finds a way to make sense of the loss, withstand the pain and heal. In Regina McBride’s memoir she takes us on a journey, back and forth in time, of her own healing to what matters most. McBride sees ghosts—of her father and mother, but not in the same form. She doesn’t know what they want of her and suspects they’re trapped between worlds. Because she can’t stop crying, she’s admitted to a psychiatric hospital and medicated. After she returns home, she sees her path—to go to Ireland, a land her parents loved and missed, yet had never visited. “And even though I am young, the idea of Ireland fills me with an inexplicable nostalgia,” she says, “as if it belonged to me once and I somehow lost it.” In her story of her journey to find Yeats country in Ireland, McBride masterly dips back and forth in time, as if she’s carrying her parents and family history forward and back, searching for answers. Irish mythology and scenes of her past magically weave a whole tapestry of loss and redemption. The repeated theme of “Je Reviens,” the name of the perfume her father gave to her mother when he asked her to marry him and French for I shall return to you, suffuses the narrative in layers, from the mother who commits suicide to join her husband, to the ghosts that come back to Regina and ask her for help. She meets people who help her along the way: Letty, who sees ghosts but is not afraid of them; a love interest; and by far for me the one gentleman who should turn her to truth, an Irishman in Ireland, who is plagued by nostalgia and blames it on the Irish falling from “the golden age, what Yeats called ‘romantic Ireland.’” Hearing him call forth Yeats, he questions her about why she’s there and what she expects to find. As he learns of the parents’ suicide, Regina finally hears this man who looks like her father address the sin of suicide. “I’m not talking about a sin against God. I’ve no Interest in that. Do you have siblings?” “Yes.” He rolls his eyes. “I’m talking about a sin against his own children.” And then of course, there are the swans. But you’ll have to read Ghost Songs to find out about them. Full disclosure: this was an advanced readers copy sent to me by the publisher Tinhouse

  17. 4 out of 5

    Renee

    The book opens with the author in a mental hospital as she believes she is being haunted by the ghosts of her parents who both committed suicide at different points in time. In many ways, it's McBride's struggle to separate madness from imagination and sorrow from devastation. I loved that the author shows her path from New York to New Mexico and then finally to the the shores of Ireland as she tries to claim her past and her parents past as well. What I did not like about this book was the back a The book opens with the author in a mental hospital as she believes she is being haunted by the ghosts of her parents who both committed suicide at different points in time. In many ways, it's McBride's struggle to separate madness from imagination and sorrow from devastation. I loved that the author shows her path from New York to New Mexico and then finally to the the shores of Ireland as she tries to claim her past and her parents past as well. What I did not like about this book was the back and forth from past to present without the distinction of a new chapter or even page. Much of the book contains just line or two about a particular memory; hence it felt very disjointed. Had the content not been so good, I would have rated it lower.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ann Marie

    I have lost three friends to suicide. So I was immediately drawn to Regina McBride's memoir about her reactions to the suicides of both her parents within five months of each other, when McBride was only a teenager. I raced through the book, because it is a genuine page-turner. It's also beautifully written. Unlike her siblings, McBride is haunted by the ghosts of both her parents. She flees to Ireland, a haunted country that her parents loved devotedly, though they had never seen it. The writin I have lost three friends to suicide. So I was immediately drawn to Regina McBride's memoir about her reactions to the suicides of both her parents within five months of each other, when McBride was only a teenager. I raced through the book, because it is a genuine page-turner. It's also beautifully written. Unlike her siblings, McBride is haunted by the ghosts of both her parents. She flees to Ireland, a haunted country that her parents loved devotedly, though they had never seen it. The writing is extraordinary, the story incredibly moving to anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide, or who has had to endure the loss of a parent. Read this book!

  19. 4 out of 5

    K Aust

    I have loved Regina McBride’s style for 15+ years, but this... ugh. It’s not PC to be critical of suicide/mental illness these days but hell if I am going to tolerate what these creeps did to their kids. Both the parents and “Nanny” were absolutely awful, selfish, unsympathetic characters who were so utterly self-centered that they didn’t give a crap about ruining their kids’ lives. As a parent, I CANNOT ABIDE THIS. Period. There’s also some good ol’ anti-Catholic sentiment running throughout, n I have loved Regina McBride’s style for 15+ years, but this... ugh. It’s not PC to be critical of suicide/mental illness these days but hell if I am going to tolerate what these creeps did to their kids. Both the parents and “Nanny” were absolutely awful, selfish, unsympathetic characters who were so utterly self-centered that they didn’t give a crap about ruining their kids’ lives. As a parent, I CANNOT ABIDE THIS. Period. There’s also some good ol’ anti-Catholic sentiment running throughout, naturally. 2.5 stars.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Cathy Aquila

    A beautiful coming-of-age memoir about a girl who begins to see her parents' ghosts after their tragic deaths. Regina and her three siblings were only teenagers when their parents committed suicide within months of each other. Told in short paragraphs, alternating between the past and present, Regina tries to capture the essence of her parents’ struggles. Her writing is lyrical and lovely as she travels from Yonkers to New Mexico and tries to find herself and home in Ireland. A beautiful coming-of-age memoir about a girl who begins to see her parents' ghosts after their tragic deaths. Regina and her three siblings were only teenagers when their parents committed suicide within months of each other. Told in short paragraphs, alternating between the past and present, Regina tries to capture the essence of her parents’ struggles. Her writing is lyrical and lovely as she travels from Yonkers to New Mexico and tries to find herself and home in Ireland.

  21. 5 out of 5

    krdito

    I have loved all of Regina McBride's novels, which are beautifully written, but found this memoir a bit too disjointed for me. It went back and forth in time, to various times in her childhood, sometimes from one paragraph to the next, making it a bit hard to follow. Although her story is profoundly sad, the writing was not up to par for McBride. I have loved all of Regina McBride's novels, which are beautifully written, but found this memoir a bit too disjointed for me. It went back and forth in time, to various times in her childhood, sometimes from one paragraph to the next, making it a bit hard to follow. Although her story is profoundly sad, the writing was not up to par for McBride.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    Regina McBride's GHOST SONGS is an exquisitely written memoir with each small paragraph like a jewel of the senses. Brave, personal and revealing. It is like looking through McBride's photo album, each vivid image captured as if by a camera into her soul. Regina McBride's GHOST SONGS is an exquisitely written memoir with each small paragraph like a jewel of the senses. Brave, personal and revealing. It is like looking through McBride's photo album, each vivid image captured as if by a camera into her soul.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I think I like my memoirs a bit more linear. I was never quite sure where McBride was in her story, and while I felt she put her heart into it, the beat of it was somewhat lost to me. Some of the descriptions of her Sante Fe and Albuquerque experience may ring true with locals.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Gabrielle Lewis

    This was okay. I couldn’t fully appreciate the writing style because it’s just not my thing. I didn’t find myself particularly excited to pick this up in the second half of the book. I liked the elements of past and present, but I felt as though they were almost too intertwined.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Parrish

    How does one bear the weight of grief and (mistaken) guilt resulting from both parent’s suicides? One becomes a brilliant writer and shares the most perfectly realized sadness and joy with the lucky reader.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Caimano

    A fascinating and heart-wrenching true story of a young woman in the aftermath of a very great family trauma.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    This was a sad but brilliantly written memoir. I just couldn't stop reading! This was a sad but brilliantly written memoir. I just couldn't stop reading!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Unique, original, haunting, and absolutely fascinating. I couldn't put it down. Unique, original, haunting, and absolutely fascinating. I couldn't put it down.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katherine Louise

    Poetic, emotional, and some of the best syntax I've read in an autobiography. This woman's self-discovery after a traumatic loss is a journey I loved reading about. Poetic, emotional, and some of the best syntax I've read in an autobiography. This woman's self-discovery after a traumatic loss is a journey I loved reading about.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Michanne Reese

    Ghost Songs clutches your heart and soul! Heart-wrenching and liberating, one can't help but see rays of hope beaming through the shards of despair. I have collected books of ghost stories specific to each region from all over and am an avid reader of memoirs as well. Fiction is wonderful, but I'm a staunch believer in the worn-thin cliché, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” and don't miss a chance to delve into another's reality. Intrigued by the title “Ghost Songs a memoir” because it combined t Ghost Songs clutches your heart and soul! Heart-wrenching and liberating, one can't help but see rays of hope beaming through the shards of despair. I have collected books of ghost stories specific to each region from all over and am an avid reader of memoirs as well. Fiction is wonderful, but I'm a staunch believer in the worn-thin cliché, “Truth is stranger than fiction.” and don't miss a chance to delve into another's reality. Intrigued by the title “Ghost Songs a memoir” because it combined two of my favorite things – ghosts and memoirs, I couldn't wait to read it. The title suggests a haunting melody. Regina McBride's “Ghost Songs a memoir” did not disappoint. In the very first paragraphs I could hear Regina accentuating the last click of the keyboard with a bang, much like Emeril's “BAM!” when he adds ingredients to a recipe. Her images are sharp and vivid with stark contrasts that quickly snap from scene to scene. At the onset the reader becomes immediately aware they are not on an ordinary journey. McBride's pace never slows and the dexterity with which she snakes through time is superb. She weaves back and forth seamlessly; her voice melodic, yet the stark images she creates grip all SIX senses. I caught myself flinching when her mother threw something across a room, cowering when her parents were fighting or when Nanny was on a tirade, wrinkling my nose when sweaty Nanny hugged her or when she walked into her brother's house wreaking of pot. I squinted when she'd return to her own dank, dark apartment or when she was in the second-hand store. My heart stopped and I would find myself trying to catch my breath when ghosts were in the room. I did not want the book to be done. I wanted more and yet it left me with hope that there WILL BE more, whether I get to read it or not and that the ending will be happy. It alludes to a tale of past shadows conquered and a chant of hope for future peace. Regina connects with the reader and will be with me for a long time to come. I will always want to drop her a line to touch base and find out how she is progressing. I will be forever grateful and honored that she had the courage to share her extraordinary expedition, dragging us from the peaks to the valleys; coast to coast and over the mountains, beaches and oceans; through the streets, theaters, hospitals, pubs, shops and the farthest reaches of her heart and mind.

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