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Book ReMarks: Preparing the Ghost

Matthew Gavin Frank's "Preparing the Ghost."
Matthew Gavin Frank's "Preparing the Ghost."

Commence with fanfare. Commence with flourish of trumpets.

Wow, eh b’ys?

I bumped into author Matthew Gavin Frank at Piper’s on Elizabeth Avenue in The Capitol.

I’d just seen [!] an ophthalmologist and my pupils were dilated the size of loonies. Considering the wattage of light pulsing along my optic nerves, when Missus — seeking a bargain-priced stone of Robin Hood flour — towed me into Piper’s, the inside of said emporium looked like the arse-end side of Alice’s looking-glass.

Clumsy as the proverbial bull, I banged into a display and knocked Matthew Frank — well, actually his book “Preparing the Ghost” [Liveright Publishing Corporation] — off the top shelf. It landed on its spine and I bent to retrieved it.

After sizing it up in the glare of Wonderland light, I lodged it in Missus’s shopping-cart on Robin Hood’s head.

Well, b’ys oh b’ys, back home, my eyes pitched down to normal, I started to read and I finished the whole book before I went to bed.

“Preparing the Ghost” is the best book I’ve read since they shut ‘er down in Pyeongchang.

Until I knocked him off the shelf, I’d never heard of Matthew Frank. I had no idea that not so long ago — 2013 p’raps — he’d visited Newfoundland.

Mr. Frank came here to research a famous [?] dead feller — Reverend Moses Harvey.

While in the province Frank met Lloyd Hollett who operates the Newfoundland Insectarium over in Deer Lake. Here’s how Frank describes Lloyd’s beard: “too neat, as if he shaves with a protractor.” … and Lloyd himself — “He resembles more of a meerkat or mole or mole rat or honey badger or fruit bat than an insect.”

I don’t know Lloyd Hollett but I’ve seen pictures of him. I like to think he’d get a chuckle from Frank’s description, eh b’ys?

Frank’s style reminds me of Tom Robbins (“Jitterbug Perfume”); of Kurt Vonnegut (“Breakfast of Champions”); of centuries-gone Laurence Stern (“Tristram Shandy”).

Making such comparisons is a struggle for reference points, reference points it’s no odds about. Matthew Gavin Frank writes like Matthew Gavin Frank.

Some writers dish up tapioca — fine quality tapioca, but gelatin and custard, nonetheless.

Matthew Gavin Frank serves us gumbo.

Gumbo with squid stock, if that’s possible.

Squid?

Squid.

Here’s “Preparing the Ghost’s” complete title: “Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer.”

Slurp on that spoonful, eh b’ys?

In 1874 Reverend Moses Harvey discovered the carcass of a giant squid on the beach in Logy Bay. Well, actually, he happened upon a group of fishermen admiring [?] the remains of a giant squid they’d hooked — albeit with an anchor — and hauled ashore.

Between the rigs and the jigs, Moses persuaded the fishermen to sell him the squid and cart it to his domicile at #3 Devon Row in St. John’s where it was scoated, streeling slime and slub, indoors and draped over the curtain rod of Harvey’s bathtub.

I don’t s’pose Mrs. Harvey was impressed.

You’ll have to read this book to confirm whether I’m quoting out of context here, but imagine Harvey’s squid strung over the bathtub like “a behemoth snot … its poor legs limp, spaghettical.”

Billy the Bard might banish me with rocks, but squid by any other name would smell like … well, calamari.

Matthew Frank points out that squid has been a food staple in the Mediterranean since the first shuff-off but has only recently dominated “the appetizer sections of menus at establishments both gourmet and shitty.”

“Preparing the Ghost” is a book I’ll keep nigh. At idle moments, rather than reach for my iPad, I’ll pick it up and browse for interesting tidbits.

For instance, about ambergris — essentially whale vomit — traditionally used by perfumiers to keep “the perfume around just a little bit longer.”

Or this scrap calamari chawers might not want to think about: “Squid corpses, even when cooked, retain their sexual reflexes and have been known to inseminate our mouths.”

Thanks to his “obese, operatically diabetic” grandfather and a stint driving an ice-cream truck during a Chicago heatwave, Matthew Gavin Frank never misses a chance to tout the virtues of ice cream. He’s tickled that Lloyd Hollett’s Insectarium includes Newfoundland crawlies, a koi pond, a gift shop, and an ice-cream parlor.”

As Lloyd Hollett says, “Ice-cream and insects are not an odd mix if you look at insects and ice-cream together — they are both beautiful things and both are joys of this life!”

As are great books and ice-cream.

Okay, and giant squid.

Note: Ikasumi is a Japanese ice-cream flavored with squid ink, hence its name. It’s said to taste a little fishy. Truly.

Exit with fanfare.

Thank you for reading.

— Harold Walters lives Happily Ever After in Dunville, in the only Canadian province with its own time zone. How cool is that? Reach him at ghwalters663@gmail.com.

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