Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer



Moses Harvey was the eccentric Newfoundland reverend and amateur naturalist who first photographed the near-mythic giant squid in 1874, draping it over a shower curtain rod to display its magnitude. In Preparing the Ghost, what begins as Moses s story becomes much more, as fellow squid-enthusiast Matthew Gavin Frank boldly winds his narrative tentacles around history, creative nonfiction, science, memoir, and meditations about the interrelated nature of them all. In a full-hearted, lyrical style reminiscent of Geoff Dyer, Frank weaves in playful forays about his research trip to Moses s Newfoundland home, Frank s own childhood and family history, and a catalog of bizarre facts and lists that recall Melville s story of obsession with another deep-sea dwelling leviathan. Though Frank is armed with impressive research, what he can t know about Harvey he fictionalizes, quite explicitly, as a way of both illuminating the scene and exploring his central theme: the big, beautiful human impulse to obsess."

Product Details

Liveright Publishing Corporation
Publish Date
July 07, 2014
4.7 X 1.2 X 7.4 inches | 0.75 pounds
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About the Author

Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of The Mad Feast and Preparing the Ghost, which was reviewed on the front-page of the New York Times Book Review. He teaches creative writing and lives in Marquette, Michigan.


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
[A] slyly charming book-length essay... The connections between all these themes--giant squids, Poppa Dave, ice cream--are fragile, but for the most part, Frank knows just how much weight they can bear. And there is some stunning writing and perversely wonderful research along the way... Alluring. It's hard to imagine a better book about not entirely understanding giant squids.--Jon Mooallem
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
[Frank] sifts through historical interest in the squid to ask questions about empathy, our means for 'sharing our obsessions, ' and the role of myth... 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 a personal experience with a seldom encountered subject.
Preparing the Ghost 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
Preparing the Ghost is the most original book I have read in years. Opening with an arresting image that literally haunts him, Matthew Gavin Frank unstrings history and reweaves a narrative from its threads, from fiction and news reporting and his own life, to remind us that every experience is a story braid. To remind us that life and love and death--all are beauty.--Lidia Yuknavitch, author of The Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase