"Preparing the Ghost" uses the figure of the Rev. Moses Harvey, the first man to photograph the giant squid, as the core of an essay which tentacles madly outwards, addressing, amongst other things: the giant squid itself, the madness and obsession of men, the author's grandfather, a love of ice cream, Newfoundland culture in the late 1800's, the power of myth, other sea creatures, whether Harvey's wife loved to eat potatoes, how to transport squid tentacles, whether dog's will eat squid tentacles (they will), and so forth. The freneticism and narrative hum of its structure creates a jittery energy and fictive sense of wonder. Should be accompanied by the attached photograph.
Late in the nineteenth century, a Canadian reverend and amateur naturalist came upon a giant squid. Giant squids were literally the stuff of myth - they existed only as sea monsters in books of legend, as potentially magical as trolls and dragons. He proved for the world that the giant squid was real, by draping it over a shower curtain and photographing it for the first time. This book dwells in that moment and in that photograph, asking the question: why do we need our monsters? And by what means do we fool ourselves that we've mastered them? This is such a gorgeous book, rich and liquidy, written with a poet's sense of natural history - I honestly know of nothing to compare it to.
Frank takes lots of seemingly unrelated topics and facts and weaves a beautiful but lumpy and misshapen rug out of them, and then spills ice cream on it. Actually, this book, purportedly about a giant squid, is a lot more about ice cream than I thought it would be.
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice Selection
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by Shelf Awareness
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.
About the Author
Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Preparing the Ghost and The Mad Feast. He teaches creative writing and lives in Marquette, Michigan.
Slyly charming. . . . stunning writing and perversely wonderful research. . . . Alluring. It’s hard to imagine a better book about not entirely understanding giant squids. — Jon Mooallem - New York Times Book Review
In a book as coiled, strange and tentacular as its subject, Matthew Gavin Frank considers the squid. . . . An act of love and erudition.
— Annalissa Quinn, NPR
One of the handsomest, most elusive creatures on earth and its first photographer get their close-up in Matthew Gavin Frank’s marvelous Preparing the Ghost.
— Elissa Schappell - Vanity Fair
Totally original and haunting in the way you’d expect a book about a real life Presbyterian clergyman and amateur naturalist from the late-19th century—and his relationship with a giant squid—to be. — Jason Diamond - Flavorwire
A great essay takes us into the author’s polymathic mind and out to the wondrous world, teaching us something we didn’t know we wanted to know. — Patrick Madden, author of Quotidiana
Reads like a cross between Walt Whitman and a fever dream. Who would think squid and ice cream go together? I remained riveted to the very last word. — Sy Montgomery, author of The Good Good Pig
Matthew Gavin Frank reinvents the art of research in extraordinarily imaginative ways. His meditation on the briefly known and the forever unknowable courts lore (both family and creaturely), invites the fantastical, heeds fact, and turns the human drive to notate and list into a gesture of lyrical beauty. — Lia Purpura, author of On Looking and Rough Likeness
Inventive, original, and endlessly interesting, Preparing the Ghost is a gorgeous exploration of myth, history, language, and imagination. . . . A journey through passion, obsession, fear, and adventure, and the hunger to behold what lurks within the depths of the sea.
— Catherine Chung, author of Forgotten Country
The most original book I have read in years. — Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase
A mysterious but seductive mix of history, creative non-fiction, memoir, and poetry. . . . keeps the reader riveted with the lure of the unknown and dark, sultry prose. — Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise
What a marvelous essay. . . . Take it all in. Revel in its majesty. — Lee Martin, author of Such a Life
A multi-tentacled and entirely captivating saga of profound mystery and relentless pursuit. — Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire
A mash-up of a meditation on the nature of myth, the magnetic distance between preservation and perseverance, and the “sympathetic cravings” that undergird pain. In Frank’s heart-thumping taxonomy, monstrous behemoths square nicely with butterflies and ice cream. Don’t ask me how: read this book! — Mary Cappello, author of Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor who Extracted Them
Part history, part lyric poem, part detective novel—Matthew Gavin Frank’s Preparing the Ghost is just as intriguing and hard to classify as its subject. I never thought I’d care so much about the elusive giant squid, but thanks to this book, I can’t help but see its shadow everywhere.
— Brenda Miller, author of Season of the Body and Listening Against the Stone