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Sophia Whiteside

3/25/2019

Ghostographs: A Bittersweet Bildungsroman

As one of literary mind and inclinations, I have spent many AM’s clacking at my

keyboard, trying to put abstract feelings into words. In 2018, Maria Romasco Moore did just this

as she succeeded in capturing childhood and the confusion and wonderment that accompanies it

in her novella of flash-fiction, Ghostographs.

Ghostographs is a Bildungsroman novella-in-flash written with an offbeat tone of spook

and magical realism. Ghostographs focuses on themes of childhood, friendship, identity, and

adulthood; portrayed through evocative writing and in a melancholy fictitious world. Each flash

story strings together a larger narrative—following a group of friends who grow up in a town

where magical realism is used to highlight the sometimes painful and confusing experiences

people have while aging and leaving their childhood behind.

The novel is written with vintage photographs opposite the page of a corresponding flash

fiction essay. For example, the first story in the novella, “The Woman Across the Way,” contains

on one page a vintage photograph of an old, witchy-looking woman standing in a doorway. On

the opposite page is the accompanying story about the young narrator suspecting the woman in

the doorway of having snakes that live under her skin. The young narrator says, “The snakes

were thin and greenish blue and I know what you are going to say. Those were veins, you are

going to say. Silly child, don’t you know what veins are? But I tell you they were snakes.” This

story sets up the magical realism and the tone of all the other essays.
As we age, we can often forget what it felt like to be a child. Of course, if we don’t

struggle and we do remember, we might employ a hindsight to our childhood situations and

rationalize away the wonderment as well as the pain of being young. If you are looking for a

book that inspires and disturbs, is both lasting and moving, and combines tall-tales with truths

then Ghostographs is the book you need to read.

While reading this book you become a part of the “We” that Romasco Moore writes

about. There is a strong sense of friendship and collusion that the narrator of the story is a part

of. As a reader I found myself drawn in, as one of the We. I mentioned previously that Romasco

Moore includes elements of magical realism. Below is a passage that combines the imagination

of children with a relatable reality, as the children live with innocence and reckless abandon.

“From the froth at the bottom of the waterfall to the castle. From my backyard to

yours.(…) In the winter we dug burrows in the snow, hunkered under blankets of frost,

stored up sleep for the summer. At school we dozed with eyes open. Spoke nonsense

when called on to answer questions. In the summer we never slept, and no one could stop

us.”

As I read Ghostographs I found myself more and more intrigued by this novella that does

something unlike anything I’d ever read before. There is one book I can mention that shares a

comparable tone and language. Whilst reading, I found that the writing and language of the book

reminded me of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Miss

Peregrine’s is about a young boy who discovers an old mansion that once housed children with

odd, magical abilities. The story is illustrated with vintage photographs—which is what first led

me to make the comparison to Ghostographs. But where Miss Peregrine’s has a similar tone and

style, it reads as a fantasy novel.


Ghostographs’ masterful incorporation of magical realism accompanied with artfully

written themes leads the flash-fiction essays to feel akin to creative nonfiction. I found myself

attached to the characters and identifying with them in a far more personal way than I normally

do with fiction.

In an essay titled “Lewis” we read about a field that grows people. The narrator and his

friend Lewis can’t get to the growing people because of the thorns that separate them. Later in

Ghostographs the narrator can’t find his friend Lewis anywhere. The narrator runs to the

outskirts of town and sees Lewis standing with the growing people, of course the narrator still

can’t get to Lewis.

Lewis returned to town in the winter. He’d done a lot of growing. He was over six

feet tall. I could no longer look him in the eye without a ladder. He bummed cigarettes

from Mabel and leaned against the sides of buildings like a fallen tree. I thought to

myself: my friend Lewis is gone now. I lost him in the tall grasses and he’ll never be

found.

Eventually we all grow up, either you grow up first or your friend does. Reading this

pulled me into all the memories I have of feeling like I can no longer connect to the friends I

once had—either I changed, or they did. Romasco Moore has written a tragicomic, hauntingly

beautiful novella that investigates universal themes. We become adults, we put on masks and

charade as confident individuals. As adults I feel we have stopped, or at least hesitated to connect

with vulnerability. Ghostographs combines old and new in a timeless fashion that inspires its

readers to reflect. Romasco Moore has personally inspired me recapture the imagination I had as

a child, to live without a mask, and embrace adjusting into life as an adult without losing myself

in the process.