Originally published on The Nerd Daily.
Arriving just in time for Novella Month, with a diverse and LGBTQ cast of characters, is debut-author Dalena Storm’s The Hungry Ghost, a chilling tale of love, lust, and desire and the often blurred line between them.
In The Hungry Ghost, a woman named Sam is caught between her alcoholic (and rather pathetic) ex-husband Peter; her young and determined would-be paramour, Madeline; and her own trepidations over letting anyone else inside her heart (or her newly-earned freedom, for that matter, being only six months out from a divorce). She’s been stretched too thin for too long, caught between obligations to her family, lovers, and work that are painfully familiar. The details of Sam’s life are vague and inconsequential, but it’s her condition that’s all too common. Who hasn’t felt bossed around, pushed around, and heaped upon when all they really want is space to breathe? Who hasn’t been faced with the uncomfortable position of having to navigate expectations thrown upon them by someone else—most particularly those who’ve claimed to love us—when they haven’t even fully come to terms with themselves? There is something insidious about that context—a darkness that lingers on the edges of your mind worrying over not only whether we are “good enough?” but “good enough to be desired?” and hints that the consequences of such desire may be more destructive than simply being enough.
There is a nagging loneliness that permeates the pages of The Hungry Ghost, beginning in its first chapter as Sam dresses for a date with Madeline and persists in every page of what is a quick, paper cut-like read—sharp, stinging, and unrelenting. When an accident puts Sam in a coma, she is pushed out of her own body by a hungry ghost, a mainstay in Tibetan Buddhism (Storm has a degree in Asian Studies) that represents beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. Sam, meanwhile, finds a new emotional and physical security in the body of a newly-born kitten in a pet shop helmed by an African-American orphan-turned-business owner with a big dose of magical predisposition and a tendency to name his cats after music’s greats—Macy Grey, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson. Those who ‘love’ Sam—Peter, Madeline, and her mother, Bianca—are forced to face the garish reality that the woman who Sam has become is not the woman they desperately wanted her to be—a realisation as literal as it could be figurative, while Sam has to learn to let go of…well, everything. It’s a fight for Sam’s humanity in possibly the most disturbing way possible.
With her limited role in her own story, as a protagonist Sam is something of a stand-in for each of us—a mirror reflection that gives us an opportunity to get outside of our own heads and come to terms with the weight of the world around us. At turns chilling and always-haunting, The Hungry Ghost is an essay on modern love and the dark side of desire that gives us the chance to reconsider the balance between our own needs and desire—whether it is “them” who are the hungry ghosts, or if, instead, it is us.
Lindy Miller Ryan is an author, editor, and spooky things enthusiast who occasionally makes crafty things and bakes.