Hungry Ghost: A Novel

Hungry Ghost: A Novel

by Keith Kachtick


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Hungry Ghost: A Novel by Keith Kachtick

Carter Cox is a talented but dissipated freelance photojournalist living in New York City's East Village with his sad dog and bad habits. Though he travels to exotic places taking pictures of models and celebrities, he yearns to do more meaningful work and to mend his womanizing ways. He also wants to put into practice the lessons he learns from his Buddhist betters, but he continues to carry with him his “seduction kit”: a chessboard, cigarettes, and a Cormac McCarthy novel.

At a Buddhist retreat, he meets Mia Malone, a beautiful, smart devout Catholic determined to remain a virgin until she is married. Carter falls hard, and Mia nervously agrees to join him on a photo shoot in Morocco. With both of their souls hanging in the balance, they quickly go from the ocean to hot water: crashing their car, getting arrested, running afoul of a sadistic gendarme, and trying to flee the country. Over the course of their adventure, they discover that karma and the human heart work in very mysterious ways.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060523916
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/20/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Keith Kachtick grew up in Texas, attended the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and now lives in New York City. His writing has appeared in a number of publications, including Esquire, Texas Monthly, the Missouri Review, and the New York Times Magazine. He is senior instructor of the Lineage Project, a nonprofit, Dharma-based organization that runs meditation classes in youth prisons in Harlem, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.

Read an Excerpt

Hungry Ghost

By Keith Kachtik


ISBN: 0060523905

Chapter One

Greta is naked again. A blue-eyed, thirty-one-year-old sous chef from Berlin, goat-beard wisps of blond hair beneath her arms, she drops her black bikini top and diaphanous, wine-colored sarong onto her towel, strides across the damp sand, and dives into the breakers. Sitting up straight, you gape at the slope of Greta's breasts and run the back of your wrist across your mouth. Until she disrobed, you'd been lying flat against a dry dune near the Sendero cabañas, a short Frisbee toss from Greta's towel, presumably undetected in the shadows of the deserted cove, hands clasped behind your head, your attention directed chiefly towards the cloudless blue sky and a lone schooner bobbing in the calm, gold-flecked Pacific waters a few hundred yards offshore.

Over the last three days you've come to think of this long-legged German woman in specific physical terms, individual pieces of an exotic, big-boned puzzle. Greta is taller than average, heavier than average, ample but in an understated, competitive-sculler sort of way. A pre- Raphaelite mop of sandy blond hair. Broad shoulders. Muscular calves. Collarbones you could rope a horse to. A drowsy, full-souled smile. (Last night, drinking cuba libres and playing chess by the driftwood campfire, as Greta forked your queen with that deliciously slow grin of hers, you thought how perfect is the Spanish word for smile: Sonrisa. Sunrise.) You can't get enough of her smoky German accent. At times she works so hard at finding the correct word in English, her wide, Old World face scrunched from the effort, that you want to take her hand. But you haven't - not once. And thus far you've managed to stay out of her cabaña, too.

Today is the final day of your three-day shoot. All of your photo gear has been repacked in the brushed-silver Anvils in preparation for tomorrow morning's departure. Less fruitful than it might have been (you exposed only nineteen rolls of film out of the fifty you brought), this unexpected "adventure travel" assignment in southern Mexico will nonetheless pay much of the balance due on your new $2,900 Minolta laser printer and last month's $1,800 rent on your East Village apartment. Despite the half-hearted professional effort, you're in no hurry to leave - the warm winter weather has proven intoxicating. For three days you've remained barefoot, worn the same pair of oversized Abercrombie & Fitch canvas cargo shorts, stayed either high or within arm's reach of a frosty Negra Modelo, and been surrounded by comely beachcombers wearing little more than coconut oil and toe-rings. Your arrival here back on Tuesday now seems like someone else's dream: New York to Mexico City to Oaxaca on increasingly smaller planes, five hours by rickety bus along the winding mountain roads of the Sierra Madres to the fishing village of Puerto Escondido, hitchhiking to San Augustinillo and then crossing by foot the beachfront dunes that lead, ultimately, to this hedonistic Pacific-coast sanctuary.

Zipolite is located on the tip of the country's southernmost peninsula, about as far from the United States as one can get and still be in Mexico. "A hidden, bohemian paradise with unpaved roads and dreadlocked shopkeepers, shaded by palm trees and palapas and thatched-roof bungalows, Zipolite is an international rainbow of Lonely Planet travelers, Amsterdam meets the Garden of Eden, a tropically exotic and decidedly Dionysian love song." This is the first line of the 2,700-word article penned by a Details writer named Sandy Tesoros (who you correctly assume is a woman), which you were hired and sent to Mexico to illustrate with your photographs. The sentence, you feel, is an apt description for how you've come to regard this place - and for the quality you attempted to capture with your cameras. There are no ringing phones or buzzing alarm clocks in Zipolite, no sunburned tourists camcording the pelicans. Here there are tattooed chests and pierced belly buttons, long moonstruck nights of reggae and mescal on the beach. Here all of life seems tribal.

For three days you munched watermelon and papaya and mango for breakfast, and at night, by votive candle under the thirty-foot-high thatched roof of La Chosa - the open-air restaurant so close to the ocean you could feel its salty spray on your cheeks - savored seared red snapper topped with prawns the size of lobsters. You meditated each morning, hidden behind dunes taller than your outstretched arms. You spotted a stray dog with his ears dyed purple (trying to get him to sit still for a shot, you pined for Marley, your camera-friendly Rasta-mutt extraordinaire, who at this very moment is gnawing on Mrs. Pierno's winter galoshes back in Manhattan). You exposed an entire roll of film on a young Mexican girl selling fillets of iguana from a bucket balanced atop her head. You slept dreamlessly in your own palm tree-shrouded Sendero cabaña, 100 pesos a night (roughly $12), monastic and seductive with its whitewashed walls, slow-turning ceiling fan, gauzy mosquito net, and pine-planked porch from which you flung sand dollars into the ocean. You built a bonfire with a South African motorcyclist awaiting, without complaint, the arrival of a brake-pad for his Ducati for six months now. You discovered the sound a palm tree makes before dropping a coconut.

For three days you wandered from one end of Zipolite's half-mile beach to the other, blissfully stoned, photographing with either your new Mamiya M645 or your rugged little Canon Elan, discreetly and usually with permission, the occasional semi-naked woman lying on the dunes. You discovered that among the semi-naked women you photographed were a Honduran dive- master, a Franco-Czech painter with a name you couldn't pronounce, a journalist from Wales covering the Zapatista rebels in the neighboring state of Chiapas, and Greta, a dripping-wet sous chef from Berlin ...


Excerpted from Hungry Ghost by Keith Kachtik
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

What People are Saying About This

Adrienne Miller

“[Hungry Ghost] is an excellent, excellent novel.

Ron Hansen

The pages of HUNGRY GHOST seem to turn themselves, it’s that good.

Kate Wheeler

A unique and fearless novel, dancing along the razor’s edge between flesh and spirit, cynicism and belief.

Reading Group Guide

About the Book
Carter Cox, 39, is a talented but dissipated photojournalist living in New York who yearns to do more meaningful artistic work and to mend his womanizing, substance-abusing ways. He also wants to put into practice the lessons he learns from his Buddhist betters, but he continues to carry with him his seduction kit: a chessboard, cigarettes, a pack of cards, and a Cormac McCarthy novel. At a Buddhist retreat in Upstate New York, he meets Mia Malone, 26, beautiful, smart, and serious -- and a devout Catholic determined to remain a virgin until she is married. They fall in love, though in Carter's case it may just be lust. With both of their souls hanging in the balance, they go to Morocco on a photo shoot, where they run afoul of a sadistic gendarme and face other external dangers that complement their emotional crisis. Hungry Ghost is a provocative and entertaining debut novel about physical and spiritual lives at risk.

Discussion Questions

  1. The author provides an alternate ending along with the one he decided on. Which ending do you prefer?
  2. Why do you think the author chose to tell the story in the second person?
  3. Carter Cox tries to incorporate his Buddhist lessons into his life but is unable to let go of aspects of his personality that conflict with what he has been taught. What is it that finally allows him to change his perspective?
  4. Mia and Carter have very different perspectives on sex and love. How do you think control, accountability, and spiritual companionship affect their relationship versus lust and desire?

About the Author:
Keith Kachtick grew up in Texas, attended the IowaWriters Workshop, and now lives in New York City. He is a senior instructor of the Lineage Project, a non-profit, Dharma-based organization that runs meditation classes in youth prisons in Brooklyn, Harlem, and the Bronx. His writing has appeared in a number of publications, including Esquire, The Missouri Review, Texas Monthly, and the New York Times Magazine. Hungry Ghost is his first novel. When he started writing the novel, he vowed it would do three things: illustrate the redemptive power of love, bring to life the everyday operations of spiritual practice, and conclude with the words "I do." The same month he began writing this book, he also started teaching Buddhist meditation classes in youth prisons.

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Hungry Ghost 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Or a Kirkus reviewer who tries, rather desperately, to pretend s/he¿s thoroughly digested a richly imagined novel¿overflowing with insight into the eternal, no less than contemporary, human condition¿then casts a mark-missing paragraph full of stones? ¿Lots of pulpy sex¿ ¿ what porn zine did this critic forget was hiding under the book jacket? Actually, if Hungry Ghost is overrun with anything, it¿s the hounds of heaven and the gradually growing din generated by their pounding ever closer to, and eventually encircling, Carter Cox. Saints, after all, are no more than sinners who quit running and become willing to have their hearts pierced, pried open to real life and true love. Like Dante, though, they usually feel compelled first to take a nice, long sight-seeing tour of hell. But we call it ¿adventure.¿ Essentially, author Kachtick offers us the redemption story we¿re always yearning for in the quiet of night, in our heart¿s still point. A latter-day (Buddhist?) Virgil, he guides us through life¿s dark maze¿along the way stripping us bare of our defensive rationalizations, self-justifications, and misconceived programs for happiness¿then leaves us in the fresh air and dawning light of a new day, fit beings, now, to make deeply informed decisions. Hungry Ghost is entertainment of the highest order, a Divine Comedy for our times.