NOTE: Ghostographs is a chapbook of short fictions inspired by old photographs by Maria Romasco Moore. It will be published November 1 by Rose Metal Press. The following review was written by Simran P. Gupta, Fictional Café’s Poetry Barista.
Ghostographs: An Album
Maria Romasco Moore
The Perfect Book to Welcome Fall
Reviewed by Simran P. Gupta
The sun is setting earlier and earlier, the temperature is dropping steadily, and it’s time to pull out our long sleeves and warm socks. If you’re like me, you’ll switch from your favorite sweet iced coffee at Starbucks to all the drinks that symbolize fall and its accompanying chill: hot apple cider, cocoa, herbal teas, all things pumpkin. And of course the return of hot coffee!
I’ve always been fond of dedicating October to books that make me think twice, that make me look over my shoulder, that make the time fly by on those chilly mornings and rainy evenings as I sit curled up in my blanket with a cup of my favorite drink. I’m so glad Ghostographs: An Album by Maria Romasco Moore was passed into my hands, because it’s the perfect read for this time of year.
This book has a unique format in which the author has written short flash-fiction, stories inspired by vintage photographs that together tell stories of family, coming of age, and adulthood. The imagery in her stories, and the images themselves, are ethereal and haunting, but they’re also memorable and ironic. The work, for me, is evocative of Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales short story collection in the best way: unforgettable, eccentric, and darkly funny, and immeasurably enhanced by the sepia photographs that tell their tales of days gone by.
There are pieces about ethereal, strange occurrences: mail-order babies, seedlings that are particularly susceptible to the devil, descriptions of ghost-towns and dying aunts. These are pieces that make me connect this collection to autumn. The pieces that resonate with me the most, however, are the ones that expound upon the everyday strife and annoyance of growing up. One such piece is titled “My Great Aunts,” a story that reminded me of my own large, boisterous, and overbearing but always loving family. The accompanying photo is of five women, standing with linked arms in front of a house, a child in front of them. The speaker gives some examples of tenderness each aunt expressed—my favorite being the wry sentence describing a “thoughtful” trip to a graveyard in the woods—but then digs deeper. The second paragraph reveals that the aunts “did not take kindly to being forgotten.” And though the speaker and her siblings were loved, they were not loved as children, but rather as “dolls.”
Another favorite was titled “Hide and Seek.” This one resonated even deeper with me, because it chronicles the loss of childhood innocence as our best friends grow up. The favorite childhood game is how Moore describes growing up: she loses her best friend during a game of hide and seek, even though he usually hides in easy places. Though she searches and searches in all his usual spots, he is nowhere to be found, until she checks the “tall grasses.” This spot is a metaphor for the often-rebellious, darker things adolescents engage in as they grow up. Indeed, the speaker describes other people who “seek” Lewis as well. The speaker’s best friend returns to town in the winter, but she is convinced he is still lost and has been since the day they played hide and seek so many months ago.
My favorite piece from the collection is entitled “Different Kinds of Light.” The accompanying photo is a shot of a cat curled up in a patch of sunlight, in front of what looks like the corner of a backyard. The piece is about light and its many iterations, as well as the difference between “real” light, meaning sunlight, and artificial light, meaning light from a lamp. Moore really digs into the concept of different types of light, going so far as to personify the sunlight that one sees from the bottom of a well: “That light is blue and it blooms like a flower when it reaches the surface.” Even though we know that the pictures inspired the words, Moore’s skill will make one wonder whether the words and the pictures aren’t connected in a deeper way.
In “Light,” it’s the second half that really drew me in. While the first part of the story discusses the different types of light and how to discern them, the second half is eerie. The speaker’s grandfather warns her to be careful with all kinds of light. “Some of it is shadow in disguise. Some of it isn’t light at all, but merely the absence of darkness,” he says. He goes on to issue a warning about the potentially harmful properties of light with a negative sentence immediately juxtaposed by a positive one. I could just picture my own elderly grandfather delivering the same warning to my childhood self as he spoke in a low, knowing tone, which at once affirmed the power of Moore’s photo-story concept. The final sentence unites the fiction to the accompanying photograph: “Check to see if a cat will sit in it. If so, it is simply the light of the sun.”
“Light” is emblematic of the entirety of Moore’s “album,” which incessantly makes you stop and think twice. Ghostographs is at once profound and lighthearted, and a perfect accompaniment to fall, the season that prompts nostalgia, change, and self-reflection.
About the Author:
Maria Romasco Moore’s stories have appeared in The Collapsar, Diagram, Hobart, Interfictions, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and the Lightspeed anthology Women Destroy Science Fiction. She is an alumni of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and has an MFA from Southern Illinois University. She currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with her partner Axel and cat Gamma Ray. She likes silent films, aquariums, and other tiny windows into other worlds. Learn more at https://mariaromascomoore.com/
About the Reviewer:
Simran Punjabi Gupta has been the Poetry Barista at Fictional Café since. 2016. She is a recent English graduate of Simmons University. She loves storytelling of all kinds and takes pride in her trilingual abilities. She hopes to spend her adult life supporting literacy efforts and marginalized voices. In a perfect world she might own a bookstore, write, and travel around the world for the rest of her life.