Alice Duncan •
Hungry Spirits •
I couldn’t put Hungry Spirits down.
There was glue on the book jacket.
Just kidding about the glue. I really loved this offbeat novel, especially the person of Daisy Gumm Majesty. As the book opens, she’s being drafted to teach a cooking class—Daisy, of all people, who can’t boil water without burning it! “Well, not the water itself, but I burned the pot so badly that it had to be thrown away.”
When she’s not exploring 65 uses for stale bread crumbs from a cookbook published by the Fleischmann Yeast Company, or singing alto in the church choir “in spite of what the melody is doing,” Daisy supports her family by holding séances. Level-headed Daisy doesn’t believe in spiritualism for a minute, but she’s adept at fabricating transmissions from the beyond. “At least I was an honest fake.”
And her reassurances do seem to provide comfort to the bereaved. In the 1920s, the whole country is still reeling from both the influenza epidemic and the Great War that left Daisy’s beloved husband confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain. While Daisy is wafting around in costumes suitable for trances (“I could waft better than anyone else I knew”), pushing a planchettte across her Ouija board, and murmuring in velvety tones to the wealthy of Pasadena, Billy is quietly amassing a cache of morphine syrup with an eye toward ending his life.
So when German refugees show up in her cooking class and—worse yet—beg for her assistance, she’s understandably outraged. “Before I’d help a German, I’d cut off my own hand!”
Or would she?
With her innate kindness, disarming candor, and utter lack of culinary skill, Daisy makes a fresh, engaging young heroine. At the book’s end, I—like the spirits—was hungry for more.