Día de los Muertos
Ghostographs: an Album by Maria Romasco Moore
Rose Metal Press, 2018
reviewed by Seana Graham
I was initially a little disappointed that Ghostographs wasn’t released quite in time for me to review for Halloween, but now that I’ve read it, I think it may be even more appropriate to squeeze it in here at the tail end of the Mexican and Mexican-American holiday Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead (which is actually a couple of days in duration).
Ghostographs is another example of the hybrid form that Rose Metal Press has been avidly cultivating over the last few years. This one combines microfiction with haunting old black and white photographs–although in this book they appear more sepia-toned. At the end of the volume, Romasco Moore tells us that when she was a child, she came across a box of what appeared on the surface to be Whitman’s Chocolates, but which when opened, disclosed at least a hundred old photos. She bought the lot for five dollars and often looked through them, trying to imagine the stories of the people captured in them. One by one, she wrote these down, and in the end, she had created a whole town.
As Romasco Moore explains in an interview with Mandy Grathwohl, as a child she found the barrier between reality and fantasy very thin, and is not convinced that when ‘the model hardens’ and we begin to discard what doesn’t fit that we actually become clearer on what’s going on. Many of her stories here touch the boundaries of that previous, more elastic vision. Maybe “The Woman Across the Way” really does have snakes in her hands. In “The Man and the Cornstalk”, maybe the cornstalk really is his dead wife. He, at least, never comes across any reason to doubt this.
Many of the photographs the author uses are imperfect. They may be old and bent, suffer from over or underexposure. Someone is shown running out of a frame, only their foot left in view. No matter. Romasco Moore takes all of these oddities into her stories. What we think we see is always an interpretation anyway.
Although the stories are discrete, characters and places recur. We have the early story “Tess” which shows a picture of a child who seems to be glowing and then the later story “Tess, Unlit” in which she doesn’t. And there are many discussions of light, which is not always the same thing or from the same source.
In her interview, Romasco Moore sums up this collection nicely:
I do hope that some of these stories make people laugh or smile. While I think there is a vein of melancholy running through them, there is an equal amount of absurdity. I like things that are funny and sad, funny and dark, funny and scary. Minor keys with upbeat lyrics, danceable songs about death. I like that dissonance. I tried to put a little of that in the book.
Seana Graham is the book review editor at Escape Into Life. She also reviews for the biography website Simply Charly. She attempts to keep up with her various blogs, including Confessions of Ignorance, where she tries to learn a little bit more about the many things she does not know. You can find links to many of her short stories at her blog Story Dump. She has co-authored a trivia book about her native Southern California. Santa Cruz Noir, a recent title from Akashic Press, features a story of hers about the city in which she currently resides.