Flor Marte has an unusual gift. Her dreams can foretell when a person will die. It’s unsetting, then, when 70-year-old Flor announces to her family that, after a dream (the contents of which she won’t reveal) she’s planning a living wake for herself. The days leading up to the wake are at the center of Family Lore, a new novel by Elizabeth Acevedo (The Poet X).
National Book Award winner Acevedo’s adult fiction debut traces the lives of the women in Flor’s Dominican family in present-day New York City: her three sisters, her daughter and her niece, many of whom, like Flor, have magical powers ranging from being able to see through any lie to possessing an “alpha vagina” that can start and stop menstruation on command. As Flor’s daughter Ona writes, “My family comes from magic, and it’s something I’ve known for so long that sometimes I forget not everyone has an innate characteristic that marks them different, that speaks to them like a second conscience.”
Told from the alternating perspectives of each woman, Family Lore explores the Marte women’s secrets, successes and heartbreaks—all the things that make a family a family—in a way that’s reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende.
There’s eldest sister Matilde, who finds joy away from her philandering husband at community center dance classes, and Flor’s niece Yadi, who’s struggling to navigate her relationship with a former boyfriend who’s just been released from jail after 18 years. Then there’s Ona, an anthropology professor whose interviews with her family are interspersed in the text.
Despite the list of characters at the start of the book, it’s at times tough to keep track of who’s who, and it’s occasionally disappointing that not every Marte woman is given the same time and attention.
Still, Family Lore is a compelling story about a family’s past, present and future and the unbreakable bonds of women.