An unnamed ninety-one-year-old narrator opens the book with the line: “I believe in ghosts.” She describes her relationship to loved ones from her past, who are all now dead and who “haunt” her memories. Even when she has been completely alone during her life, their memories have kept her company. She explains that she remembers the “best selves” of her parents, forgetting her father’s alcoholism and her mother’s depression. She describes how she has chosen to survive by holding onto the “ghosts” of her parents, her baby sister, and her true love, who have all “whispered” to her, “telling [her] to go on.”
The book’s opening reveals the narrator’s accumulation of losses over her life, and sets the stage for the importance of holding onto memories as a means of survival. The narrator (later revealed as Vivian) allows “ghosts” to replace living people in order to feel a sense of belonging even when alone. The metaphor of “haunting” suggests that her past returns to distract her in the present. Her memories let her alter reality, remembering the “best selves” of her loved ones.