The Six Granddaughters of Cecil Slaughter by Susan Hahn | Book review
Susan Hahn’s first novel is a dense but lyrical family saga set in Chicago.
It’s no surprise Susan Hahn peppers her first novel with poems. The former TriQuarterly editor has authored nine books of poetry and contributed to numerous poetry journals. What’s striking is the intricacy of her prose, chronicling the deep-seated rivalries and sorrows of a family of Jewish Hungarian immigrants who’ve settled in Chicago. The six granddaughters—Celine, Celie, Cecilia, Cecily, Celeste (who died in infancy) and Ceci (who passed away at age 32)—are wildly different but “cut from the same cloth.” A murder, mentioned in the first sentence of the book and built up to over subsequent chapters, threatens to unravel their lives.
As Hahn shifts among the cousins’ stories—that of the lovely and tormented poet Cecilia; the lust-driven, image-obsessed Celine; the spiteful playwright Cecily; and the obliging saleswoman Celie—things get convoluted. With so many similar names, I had to constantly reference the family tree. But two specific features keep the ambitious novel from unraveling. First, it’s narrated by Ceci from the afterlife. “The dead are not necessarily serene,” she says, offering perspective on the family drama and, occasionally, comic relief. She describes her therapy sessions with Lao Tzu and a lecherous uncle who chases women in the afterlife: “For a while he even sought out Anna Karenina—not realizing she was not a real person.” The second feature that keeps the heavy narrative afloat is Hahn’s lyrical storytelling. Even the simple choice of naming the family “Slaughter”—a family who has seen genocide and carries the weight of loss—shows her brilliant way with words.
Hahn reads at the Book Stall Thursday 11.