Posts Tagged ‘cannibalism’

The Hunger, looking rather snug with my spices and seasonings.

After reading The Deep earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before I read Alma Katsu’s other book, The Hunger, which follows the Donner Party. Which, if you don’t know who that is, were a caravan of settlers who got snowed in the mountains of California in the winter of 1846-47 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.* And this October, I made it part of my Halloween reading.

As I said above, The Hunger follows the Donner Party, a pioneering wagon train led by George Donner and his family as they head west to California. However, this isn’t a simple retelling of a horrific tale. Something’s following the wagon train, picking off members. As tensions rise and odd events pile up, it becomes clear that’s something afoot. And it could be human. It could be animal. Or it could be something man has never classified before. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: it is very, very hungry.

The Deep was good, but The Hunger was even better. It’s a slow burn, but what’s burning away isn’t just the plot, but the sense of ease. As you go further along in the story and more strange and terrible events occur, you start to feel this awful tension. You’re going to get to the inevitable, but it’s not going to be what you expected. And you have no idea what’s going to happen while on your way there.

Speaking of which, the twist on what the source of the terror was at the end was great. I wasn’t expecting it, which is saying something for me. And when I finally did get an idea of what it was, it left me extremely satisfied. As well as worried about what could happen if such a thing were to exist in this world, but I think that was what the author was going for.

I also liked the characters. Alma Katsu has a talent for taking these huge casts and giving the majority of them enough development to make you like them. George Stanton, trying to outrun his past; Tamsen Donner, suspected of being a witch, when all she wants is to fill a great void within her; Elitha Donner, who hears voices no one else does; Mary Graves, who wants adventure in the great wide somewhere; and Edwin Bryant, who knows so much more than he lets on. These, and others, are characters I came to care for, even as I knew what was likely to happen to them.

There were a couple of downsides to this novel. One was that there were chapters where the reader was taken to significant events in the characters’ pasts, events which likely had an effect on them joining the wagon train. Some of these were relevant to the story and fleshed things out, but a few, especially earlier chapters like this, felt unnecessary.

That, and if you’re here for the actual Donner tale, it should be obvious by now that The Hunger isn’t that. Not a downside, just a different kind of horror based on a real-life horror.

All in all, The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a deliciously terrifying novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m granting it a 4.7. Grab a copy, order a steak dinner, and get ready for a slow ride across the US to the land of frights. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

*When I would describe this plot to people who asked me what I was reading, I would follow it up by going, “Om nom nom nom nom!” Totally worth the reactions I got.

What a mouthful of a title. Let me explain:

Back in college (I want to say 2012), when featured blog posts were advertised to WordPress users under the feature “Freshly Pressed,” I read a blog post from a father who recently had a run-in with someone else’s spawn. I can’t remember much about the blog post in question. I can’t remember the blog or blog post’s name, the blog’s general theme, or anything of that sort. However, one detail stands out in my memory and it’s why I’m writing this blog post:

After reprimanding another person’s child for selfish (and maybe violent? I can’t remember that well) behavior at a children’s playground, the child’s mother came to apologize. And the parent described the mother’s face as “crunchy.” You read that right, crunchy. For someone’s face.

I tried pressing the author in the comments about what he meant by “crunchy.” What makes a woman’s face crunchy? But no matter how much I tried or he tried, he couldn’t describe it better than “crunchy.” I’m guessing he doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to understand the meanings of adjectives in order to mix and match them in stories and not use the same word over and over again. That’s more of a creative writer thing, not a parent blogging about their experiences kind of thing.

Anyway, I put the issue aside, but every now and then, I would come back to it and wonder how you could describe someone’s face as “crunchy.” About two weeks ago, I decided to finally search for answers and decided to discuss it with my various writers’ groups online. And I got some feedback that proved quite helpful.

Among my writer friends and colleagues, there were three main responses:

  • The author really meant “scrunchy,” not “crunchy.” This would make more sense, as it’s easier to visualize someone’s face scrunch up.
  • He meant she was a crunchy-type person, as in a sort of neo-hippie that eats granola and lots of other natural foods that are crunchy when eaten (hence the nickname).
  • The person’s face was so covered in lines, that you could almost hear those lines crunching whenever their face moved.

Honestly, given that I mainly asked horror authors for their feedback, I’m surprised that only one person made a wisecrack about cannibalism, and the woman’s face looking like a crunchy snack. Like a Cheetos snack or a Crunch bar.

And now I’m hungry. Dammit.

What people tend to think of when they hear the word “crunchy.” Not in regards to people’s faces.

Anyway, of the responses listed above, it was a variation of the last one that rang right to me. One author commented that she’d seen people whose skin texture was like cornflakes due to too much exposure to the sun and applying too much beige make-up to “make up” for it. Given my vague memories of the original blog post and the context the author used for the woman he was conversing with, this felt right. In fact, it lines up with the image I conjure in my head when I think of the woman from this blog post.

So, that’s the description I’m going with. In fact, I’ve already figured out how I could work it into a story someday, as well as which story I’d like to use it in. And perhaps which foolish person who got on my bad side and received the ultimate punishment of getting a hateful character based on them to use the description on.*

But damn, it was a crazy trip just to get to the right description. At least I finally found a description that works for me and I can work into a story someday. And I got to write a blog post that hopefully was edifying and enjoyable. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday morning, right?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope this post was amusing. So, until next time, what are some other weird or mystifying descriptors you’ve come across in your reading? Any that you’ve struggled to find an answer for? Let’s discuss.

And until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and no eating people’s faces off. It’s generally frowned upon in Western society.

*Don’t mess with me. My retribution is not only dangerous and eternal, but safe from lawsuits owing to that little clause in the copyright section stating it’s a work of fiction and that any connections to real persons, places or events are just coincidences.