Ghost Stories

by E.M. Broner
Global City Press, New York, $12, paper

Ghost Stories is the most recent book by noted Jewish feminist author E.M. Broner, and it is as satisfying as we have come to expect from her. This collection of short stories delves into the relationship between a woman and her dying mother. But this is not a book about pain and anger, and it is not about eulogizing the perfect mother. These are stories about the bond between an imperfect mother and her imperfect daughter, a bond that transcends death.

The stories begin as the mother is approaching death and Leila, the daughter, begins to realize how much maternal wisdom she has yet to absorb. It is not until Leila begins going to synagogue every Shabbat to say Kaddish for her mother that—in scenes of magical realism—the two finally begin to communicate. The 11 months that Leila sits and “talks” with her mother in synagogue gives her mother a chance to intercede on behalf of her own memory.

One of the most remarkable things about this book is Broner’s ability to weave humor into a story about grieving. No offense could be taken, for instance, in Broner’s portrayal, in Leila’s voice, of the Kaddish: “As we begin preparing for the Mourner’s Prayer, she’s already pushing me out of my seat. ‘Don’t be the last to rise!’ she says. ‘It makes a bad impression.'”

Ghost Stories is an incredible collection of love stories, memoirs not of a super-mother but of a mother, warts and all.