(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Eve of the Spirit Festival” is a tightly constructed ghost story about two young Chinese American women dealing with the death of their parents. When they are little, their mother dies, forever changing their relationship with their father as they grow up. Once they have become young adults, his death and reappearance as a ghost to the older sister brings the story to a striking close.

The story opens as the girls’ mother, who has died from an unspecified illness, has been cremated as part of a Buddhist ceremony. Sitting on the living-room floor of their modest apartment, the narrator, six-year-old Claudia, is comforted by her eleven-year-old sister, Emily. The older daughter is furious at what she sees as her father’s tardiness in turning to Western medical treatment and blames him for the death of their mother. As her father enters, Emily ridicules his Chinese customs of mourning the dead by burning paper money for their ghosts and makes him go away.

After forty-nine days of mourning, even their father stops going to the Buddhist temple in their New York City neighborhood. Their mother never appears as a ghost to her children, as Chinese legends say she might. Their father, who has been inviting colleagues to his apartment in order to advance in his career as a university chemist, resumes this practice. He asks his daughters to serve food and drinks to people such as his boss Brad Delmonte, who shows a vague sexual interest in...

(The entire section is 532 words.)