Author Keith Kachtick is a long-time Buddhist practitioner who also edited the collection of stories, YOU ARE NOT HERE AND OTHER WORKS OF BUDDHIST FICTION (2006).” His novel, HUNGRY GHOST, has been designated as Buddhist fiction by Kimberly French in her UUMagazine spring 2010 blog post “Guide to Buddhist Fiction”: http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/162391.shtml, as well as by Pico Iyer in his NY Times Review, “Is the Pope Buddhist?” http://www.nytimes.com/2003/07/27/books/is-the-pope-buddhist.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm. It is also reviewed as Buddhist fiction on John L. Murphy’s Blogtrotter: http://fionnchu.blogspot.com/2012/01/keith-kachticks-hungry-ghost-novel.html
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Carter Cox, a 39-year-old womanizing New York photographer, befriends a Buddhist teacher of sorts, who takes him to a retreat. There he meets Mia Malone, a Catholic who explores other religions. But her main characteristic is that she is a 26-year-old virgin and wants to remain that way until she marries. Things get complicated when Carter invites Mia to go to north Africa with him to be his assistant on a photo shoot. Will he bed her or not? This is the question, but the conflict is not so much between the characters as it is between Carter’s urges and his conscience.
The most salient characteristic of this novel, though, is not its plot but its execution. The story is told in second person, so that Carter is addressed as “you” throughout the story. Kachtick, in an interview following the novel’s release, stated that his intention was to have Carter be addressed by his Buddha nature. This Buddha nature can also see into the future and into other characters, so that the narrator has some of the characteristics of a third person omniscient narrator. Another unusual characteristic of the plot is that it has two endings. The point here seems to be to allow the reader to see what could happen if Carter followed his “lower nature” as opposed to the outcome when he follows his Buddha nature.
The book provides plenty of food for thought and discussion. Here are some questions to chew on:
1. Does the narrator’s voice feel like your own experience of your Buddha Nature? Or is it more like conscience? Is there a difference?
2. Do you think Kachtick was able to make the conflict around virginity succeed, given the contemporary time-frame of the novel?
3. Were you able to buy that Carter’s giving in to his urge to seduce Mia would have the consequences portrayed in the novel?
4. Did the second person narration work for you? Why or why not? Were you able to identify with Carter? If not, do you think that was necessary in order for the book to succeed?
5, There is a lot of discussion of karma in the novel, especially with respect to what will happen if the future as a consequence of present actions. But would it have been useful to know something about Carter’s past – such as what kind of parents he had and how he was raised? Would this help to understand how he became who he is as the book opens?
We look forward to responses from those who have read the book, and, perhaps, an interesting dialogue among readers.