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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.
Author's note xi
Part one: The largest animal without a backbone 1
Part two: The mere fabrications of a distorted mind 93
Part three: All of these suckers 127
Part four: We're coming to a head wind 183
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.
"[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 – The New York Times Book Review
"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
"Preparing the Ghost is a triumph of obsession, a masterful weaving of myth and science, of exploration and mystery, of love and nature. Here Matthew Gavin Frank delivers my favorite book-length essay since John D'Agata's About a Mountain, and with it he stakes a claim to his own share of the new territory being forged by such innovators of the lyric essay as Eula Biss and Ander Monson."
– Matt Bell, author of In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods)
"Matthew Gavin Frank has made a book into a curiosity cabinet, one dedicated to the storied giant squid. A mysterious but seductive mix of history, creative non-fiction, memoir, and poetry, Preparing the Ghost is written with contagious passion. In this original book, Frank weaves his imagination through history's gaps, and keeps the reader riveted with the lure of the unknown and dark, sultry prose."
– Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise
"Matthew Gavin Frank has fashioned a book-length essay marked by unforeseen oneiric asides, and of real and imaginary escapades in search of one Newfoundlander's giant squid. Preparing the Ghost is 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
"What a marvelous essay Matthew Gavin Frank has written. Preparing the Ghost is driven by narrative, by lyric association, by memoir, by lists, by research, by imagination. Frank delivers this story of Moses Harvey, the first person to photograph the giant squid, with a passion as supercharged as Harvey's own. Above all, this is an essay about obsession, mystery, mythmaking, and the colossal size of our lives. Take it all in. Revel in its majesty."
– Lee Martin, author of Such a Life
"Like the giant squid at the center of this enchanting inquiry, Mathew Gavin Frank's Preparing the Ghost is a multi-tentacled and entirely captivating saga of profound mystery and relentless pursuit."
– Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic & Desire
"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
"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. In Preparing the Ghost's deliciously delirious layering of science, biography, history, mystery, linguistics, myth, philosophy, epistemology, adventure, travel Matthew Gavin Frank has given us a truly great essay."
– Patrick Madden, author of Quotidiana
"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
"The shortest distance between two people is a great story. This one is incredible. You will embrace Preparing the Ghost like a friend you won't want to leave."
– Bob Dotson, New York Times bestselling author of American Story: A Lifetime Search for Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things
"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
"Fans of Federico Fellini and, most especially, of Georges Perec, will adore Mr. Frank's infuriatingly baroque, charmingly eccentric and utterly unforgettable book. And with hand on heart I can truly say that I also loved every word of it."
– Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman and Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded
"Inventive, original, and endlessly interesting, Preparing the Ghost is a gorgeous exploration of myth, history, language, and imagination, all swirling around the mysterious and evocative figure of the giant squid. This book is a journey through passion, obsession, fear, and adventure, and the hunger to behold what lurks within the depths of the sea. "To look into a squid's eyes is like looking into infinity," one squid-obsessed character declares, as Matthew Gavin Frank leads us deeper and deeper into this dazzling account of strangeness, and danger, and the longing to see."
– Catherine Chung, author of Forgotten Country
"[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."
– Publishers Weekly
"Preparing the Ghost delights in a banquet of unusual facts and fantasts [...] Mr. Frank marshals irresistible information – the evolution of calamari as a popular dish, the uses of ambergris [...] along with pressing philosophical queries and excerpts from scholars. These elements coalesce to give this book a charming dynamism. More important, Mr. Frank's high-wattage prose never dims."
– William Giraldi, Wall Street Journal