For our first buddy read of the year, Melody
and I chose to read The Hunger.
In this novel, Alma Katsu relates the haunting history of the Donner Party but with a supernatural twist. She also explores the evil that lies within men ... and without. All of her characters, from Tamsen Donner, to James Reed, to Charles Stanton, carry their own dark secrets. But there's another kind of darkness stalking them along the trail. One that hungers. And kills. And as they near Lake Truckee high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, that awful darkness closes in on them.
"...evil was only an arm's length away, waiting to swoop down on them, whether animal or spirit--or man."
There's a lot
to like about this novel: Katsu's compelling prose, her attention to historic detail, the authentic voices of her various characters, and her quiet building of suspense. Then there's the tension and horror she creates as the party gets trapped and the number of deaths starts to mount. I really liked the combination of historical fiction and horror in this novel. The one flaw for me was that I felt Katsu tried to juggle too many characters. Some of her characters showed up once at the beginning only to then disappear for the rest of the book except for one brief mention at the end; and a few other times, a character wouldn't be mentioned for several chapters in a row and then they'd suddenly show up again in the narrative. It was a little jarring. But all in all, The Hunger
is an atmospheric and gripping novel, and I liked it a lot. And did I mention that I really appreciated the lyrical way Katsu writes? Here's just one example:
"The children were turning into strange, stalking insects, all eyes and spikes and desperate twitches. Stanton, in comparison, looked like a man in color among a wash of wraiths."
Reading this book with Melody made it even more fun. She always has such good insights and comments. And she asks some great questions, too. Here they are, along with my answers. And be sure to check out her excellent review.
Q. Many of these characters become unlikable as the story progresses. However, there are still one or two characters whom we sympathized with. Who do you think is the most pathetic?
A. I think all of my sympathies were with some of the younger characters like Elitha Donner and Mary Graves, who had no choice or voice in any of the decisions that were made concerning the Donner Party, but who then had to live with the tragic consequences of those choices. I also sympathized with the young Paiute guide, Thomas, who also got caught up in something he didn't choose or deserve. I had a lot of sympathy for Charles Stanton, too. Of the many adults in this book, he was by far the most likable.
Q. What mistakes do you think the Donner Party made that can account for the tragedy? You may choose to answer this question based from the true event or the fiction aspect of the story.
A. Where do I begin with this one? So many mistakes were made! Starting too late. Loading their wagons with unnecessary weight. Not heeding the advice of others who told them to turn back or take another route. And not traveling faster. Fighting among themselves. It's like a domino effect how all these seemingly small decisions led to one large and unforgettable disaster.