After finding and absolutely loving Paul Kwiatkowski’s And Every Day was Overcast,* I’ve kept half an eye out for other things. Kwiatkowski isn’t the most active, doesn’t seem to have a website, and I somehow stumbled across Ghost Guessed, his 2018 book with Tom Griggs.
Ghost Guessed follows two parallel, interwoven stories, one a sort of remembrance of Andrew Lindberg, who disappeared on short flight to meet his dad for a hunting trip on the White Earth reservation, the other of the putative author’s experience around Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the Indian Ocean several years later. The narrative serves as a sort of meditation on the changes brought about by the digital revolution and the move from analog/physical life—presence, engagement, memory—to digital/online “life”—status, engagement, flashback. Just as the disappearance of loved ones fractures and disrupts, just as a massive airplane, full of people, flying through a heavily surveilled sky, can just *poof disappear, this digital frontier destabilized, fractured, opened fissures, not only in our personal, daily lives, but also in our families, our neighborhoods, our societies, and the loss we feel is so deep and so vast that we don’t even really recognize it, yet we all feel a sense of dislocation and loss, even if we’ve never known anything different.
This slippage is brilliantly apparent, visceral in the book itself: throughout my reading of Ghost Guessed (and I’ve read it two or three times now), I kept trying to figure out who was who, or, rather, at what point the “I” of the narrator, or the “I” of the photograph(er) referred to Paul over Tom.
The book opens with two screenshots, one of a local news channel’s coverage of Lindberg and the missing plane, the other an email from Robert and Susan Griggs, to “Dave, Amy, Merlyce.” The text begins on the next page with “Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 vanished over the South China Sea in the spring of 2014, three weeks before I flew to Kuala Lumpur with my wife…”** So it seems likely that the “I” of the book, or at least of this section, is Griggs. Perhaps Tom is Dave or Amy or Merlyce’s son. Allahu Alim, and it doesn’t much matter.
Now. I know Kwiatkowski as a writer and photographer, know that he uses archival photographs and found works, and so thought maybe the photographs were his, perhaps, but there seem to be pictures of Griggs and Andrew Lindberg and family, and I couldn’t see a strong split between these family album-type pictures and the pictures out of airplane windows and of landscapes and etc.
I wasn’t aware of Griggs until I began working on this review, and like Kwiatkowski, Griggs is also a photographer and writer. Unlike Kwiatkowski, though, Griggs has a website (and it led me to Kwiatkowski’s Wake Island Podcast, which is worth a listen, and I wish I’d found it sooner, though am happy to have several dozen hours of quality interviews and discussions ahead of me).
I never could really figure out where Kwiatkowski came into it. Griggs shows maybe 40 pictures from the book on his website, including many, but not nearly all, of the family photographs, and showing a mix of VHS screen grabs, early and contemporary Digital photographs, scans of film photos and prints, just like we find in the book. I haven’t tried to count the images in the book and tried to compare with Griggs’ website, and I wonder if Griggs includes only his own photos Ghost Guessed on his website, or if he presents the joint effort without obviously crediting Kwiatkowski?
Again, Allahu Alim, and it doesn’t much matter.
After listening to an April 2020 discussion between Griggs and Kwiatkowski on Wake Island, the few brief comments they made about Ghost Guests, make it seem like the narrative is a sort of blended story, that the ‘I’ might be a mix of Griggs and Kwiatkowski. I can’t quite put my finger on it, and reading again and again, without knowing more about both, it really seems like a unified story, and that it’s Griggs’s life… Yes, Allahu Alim (and Griggs and Kwiatkowski, and maybe some of their family and friends) and it doesn’t matter.
As a joint-authored photo-memoir-novel, Ghost Guessed quite successfully masks its makers and speaks with a completely unified voice about the jumble and fracture of life and memory under the still very new (as of 2021) digital/online life and society. If my confusion about authorship is a sad holdover of the analog millennia, then its a pale echo of that felt by people effected by the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 and Lindberg’s family, and so no wonder Ghost Guessed made a bunch of best of lists back in 2018.***
Overall, I rate it a solid 4 stars.
Despite its rather limited publication run of a mere 500 copies, Ghost Guest remains available, and has a good companion website that’s worth checking out. Also worth checking out: Griggs’s website and Kwiatkowski’s podcast.
*I have the hardcover edition, and I sorta can’t believe I never reviewed And Every Day was Overcast. Good stuff, and sorta in line with something I’d like to do.
**Griggs, Tom, and Paul Kwiatkowski. Ghost Guessed. Mesæstándar Editores, Medellin, Columbia. 2018. p. 13
***See PhotoEye, LensCulture (scroll down some), and the Humble Book List (#32).