Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographerby Matthew Gavin Frank
Memory, mythology, and obsession collide in this “slyly charming” (New York Times Book Review) account of the giant squid.In 1874, Moses Harvey—eccentric Newfoundland reverend and amateur naturalist—was the first person to photograph the near-mythic giant squid, draping it over his shower curtain rod to display its magnitude./p>/em>
Memory, mythology, and obsession collide in this “slyly charming” (New York Times Book Review) account of the giant squid.In 1874, Moses Harvey—eccentric Newfoundland reverend and amateur naturalist—was the first person to photograph the near-mythic giant squid, draping it over his shower curtain rod to display its magnitude. In Preparing the Ghost, what begins as Harvey’s story becomes spectacularly “slippery and many-armed” (NewYorker.com) as Matthew Gavin Frank winds his narrative tentacles around history, creative nonfiction, science, memoir, and meditations about the interrelated nature of them all. In his full-hearted, lyrical style, Frank weaves in playful forays about his trip to Harvey’s Newfoundland home, his own childhood and family history, and a catalog of peculiar facts that recall Melville ’s story of obsession with another deep-sea dwelling leviathan. “Totally original and haunting” (Flavorwire), Preparing the Ghost is a delightfully unpredictable inquiry into the big, beautiful human impulse to obsess.
In this four-part essay, Frank (Pot Farm) chronicles his research into a 19th-century Newfoundland eccentric who photographed a giant squid, though as a creative work it is less interested in the facts of its subject than in the questions it raises. Readers interested in cryptozoology may be disappointed to find information about the creature spread diffusely throughout the larger narrative, but this is fitting for a subject defined by its elusiveness, a creature of quasi-mythic status and “exaggerated melodrama.” Frank’s inquiry is concerned primarily with the nature of myth and our tendency to “mythologize the actual,” in this case a beast made marvelous by the “fusion of its size and its rarity.” He sifts through historical interest in the squid to ask questions about the nature of empathy, our means for “sharing our obsessions,” and the role of myth as “expression of our greatest semi-imagined fears.” Woven into these big questions are little stories, personal anecdotes, family history, and profiles of contemporary and historic players in the narrative of the giant squid. In this blending of the large and small, Frank sees human lives that are “delicious, disturbing, and downright huge,” and expresses his personal experience with a seldom encountered subject. (July)
An investigation of our first encounters with the giant squid, a creature “more bizarre than anything appearing inStar Wars.”Poet and creative writing teacher Frank (The Morrow Plants: Poems, 2013, etc.) moves like a wraith around the myth, superstition and spirit of the giant squid—and not as a single-subject exploration but through the conjured memory of Moses Harvey, a preacher in Newfoundland during the mid-1800s. Harvey had heard stories of the beast—a kraken, a devil-fish that lived up to its name—and one morning in 1874, he was able to lay eyes on one. It was washed ashore, dead, but damn if he wasn’t going to commune with the creature up close and personal. He paid some men to carry the squid to his tub—“Nothing says domestication like a giant squid strung over a clawfoot bathtub”—before he said farewell and shipped it off to Yale for safekeeping. Surrounding the event is a great embroidery of story: “I am mythmaking, I suppose,” writes Frank, and he does it with transporting authority. Readers walk through the cold, pins-and-needles rain that falls forever in Newfoundland and perambulate the town as Frank walked it in modern times. The author concocts the background out of whole cloth, an imagined scenario. Though there are facts enough to keep it real, there are also moments in which there is a strong sense of the unconscious at work. “Somewhere, in the recesses of these recessive versions of our dominant truths,” writes Frank, “behind a daisy chain of lanterns and Darwin’s theories drunk and conga-lining, Rudolph Valentino was blond.” This track eventually wends its way back to myth and Newfoundland.Fantastical, atmospherically moody and Poe-like in its laudanum-fueled dreaminess.
- Liveright Publishing Corporation
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Meet the Author
Matthew Gavin Frank has previously written about everything from wine-making in a tent in Italy to the social hierarchies of a pot farm in California. He teaches creative writing and lives in Marquette, Michigan.
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