Ghost Songs: A Mem­oir by Regina McBride,

Tin House Books, 297 pages

Pasatiempo - - OIN OTHER WORDS - Regina McBride reads from “Ghost Songs” at Op. Cit. Books (DeVar­gas Cen­ter, 157 Paseo de Per­alta, 505-428-0321) on Thurs­day, Oct. 13, at 5:30 p.m.

Af­ter the death of a loved one, many peo­ple re­port en­coun­ter­ing them in some way — per­haps as a breeze through a room, a voice in a dream, or a vi­sion at the foot of the bed. Af­ter Regina McBride’s par­ents com­mit­ted sui­cide in 1974, she ex­pe­ri­enced vis­i­ta­tions from what she be­lieved were their ghosts. Ter­ri­fied, she be­gan to cry and couldn’t stop. She was so un­moored by the ap­pari­tions that she landed in a psy­chi­atric ward while vis­it­ing fam­ily on the East Coast. She didn’t be­long there, though, and she soon re­turned to Santa Fe, where she had grown up and where she was en­rolled at the local col­lege.

Ghost Songs is McBride’s mem­oir of her child­hood, lead­ing up to her par­ents’ deaths when she was in her late teens, and re­trac­ing her first cou­ple of years with­out them. The non­lin­ear nar­ra­tive jumps around in time and place, from her early days in Yonkers, New York, to New Mex­ico — the fam­ily first lived in Al­bu­querque and then in Santa Fe — to her time in col­lege and her sud­den de­ci­sion to travel in Ire­land. She has an older brother, Jerry, who went to the Univer­sity of New Mex­ico, and two younger sis­ters, Tracy and Sheila, whom she was un­able to prop­erly care for as a grief-stricken the­ater stu­dent. McBride threw her­self into juicy roles on stage at the Greer Gar­son Theatre. Though she never ex­plic­itly names the Col­lege of Santa Fe in the book, she men­tions the pro­duc­tions she was in dur­ing col­lege — The House

of Blue Leaves, Moon­chil­dren, and The Mu­sic Man among them — as well as her fa­vorite pro­fes­sor, Kim Stan­ley, a one-time film star who taught at CSF (on the cam­pus that now houses Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art and De­sign).

For read­ers who live in Santa Fe or who at­tended CSF, Ghost Songs is a chill­ingly nos­tal­gic scav­enger hunt that can be pieced to­gether through care­ful read­ing and a work­ing knowl­edge of local ge­og­ra­phy over the past half cen­tury. McBride’s Ir­ish-Amer­i­can fam­ily lived off Siringo Road, near the rodeo grounds and what is now Richards Av­enue. McBride’s fa­ther tended bar at the Tap Room at Coron­ado Cen­ter, on Cor­dova Road, and her mother worked as a sec­re­tary at the In­sti­tute for Amer­i­can In­dian Arts when it was lo­cated at the Santa Fe In­dian School. Cer­ril­los Road was dirt where it pe­tered out into the high­way to Al­bu­querque, on the south­west edge of town, which was then mostly un­de­vel­oped mesa.

Far more than a trip down mem­ory lane, how­ever, Ghost

Songs is a deeply mov­ing ex­plo­ration of the tragedy of anger within a fam­ily. McBride’s grand­mother, Nanny, was an op­pres­sive, hos­tile force in their house­hold. She held on to a long-stand­ing ha­tred of her dreamer son-in-law and ma­nip­u­lated her daugh­ter through guilt and a twisted sense of duty. Her grand­chil­dren re­viled her and wished she would live some­where else or even burn in hell, but Nanny’s even­tual death set off their al­ready un­sta­ble mother. Home be­came, even more than it had been, a war zone of ir­ra­tional shriek­ing, scratch­ing, bit­ing, and sui­ci­dal ideation.

McBride found her mother’s sui­cide far less sur­pris­ing than her fa­ther’s, five months ear­lier, for which she felt enor­mous guilt. She told few peo­ple what had hap­pened, fear­ful that she would be blamed for be­ing the kind of daugh­ter that par­ents would aban­don in such a vi­o­lent and fi­nal way. In her of­fice in the the­ater, Stan­ley at­tempted to help McBride come to terms with the deaths, if only by en­cour­ag­ing her to play dra­matic roles with the same com­mit­ment she gave to comedic ones, but McBride re­sisted her pro­fes­sor’s ef­forts. She could not look di­rectly at the ap­pari­tions at the end of her bed; nor could she cre­ate a co­he­sive nar­ra­tive around her par­ents’ mo­ti­va­tions. She wasn’t an­gry with them but bereft, rav­aged by loss.

McBride left Santa Fe to seek re­demp­tion in Ire­land — in Yeats coun­try, which her fa­ther had talked about in hushed and rev­er­ent tones through­out her life, with tales of door­ways to mag­i­cal lands and fan­ci­ful crea­tures. She was raised Catholic, and though she doesn’t really be­lieve in fairies, or that the ap­pari­tions she saw were com­mu­ni­cat­ing with her from the other side, in a per­fect meld­ing of Ir­ish and Santa Fean sen­si­bil­i­ties, McBride is not closed off to the idea that a spirit world ex­ists. In Ghost Songs, she has con­jured her child­hood as an act of heal­ing and sto­ry­telling, which she ac­com­plishes in terse yet vivid po­etic scenes and frag­ments. She has also brought back to life, per­haps un­wit­tingly, tiny pieces of old Santa Fe that might well have dis­ap­peared un­der a thick layer of dust were it not for her drive to ex­pose them to sun­light af­ter all these years. — J.L.

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