Jenny has special dietary needs. Her hot dates all have dark thoughts and violent tendencies. They have no idea what’s coming for dessert.
Bonus bite: it’s the Nebula Awards this weekend, so you get an extra review! Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers sits on the borders of horror, subverting our sympathies right from its American Psycho opening scene.
It’s clear from the start that Jenny is not your average young woman. Her assessment of her date Harvey – rich, arrogant, entitled – isn’t just based on his choice of restaurant and his expensive watch; she can see and hear his thoughts. And unpleasant though he is (objectification ahoy), she’s about to write him off as a wasted night until he starts fantasising about cutting her up.
We never find out whether Harvey has particularly vivid daydreams or is a fully-fledged psycho; Jenny has no intention of letting things get that far. We also never get a label for what Jenny is, but she’s as much a monster as Harvey, sucking him dry of his thoughts and his life force. By this point, our sympathies subverted, it doesn’t really matter.
As the story unfolds, Jenny struggles to cope with the vicious thoughts she ingests as they begin to colour her reactions to her much-loved human friend Aiko. Worse, having tasted someone as vile as Harvey, she finds her need for ever-stronger, ever-darker intentions to feed her hunger is relentless. Her difficult relationship with her mother (it’s hard to forgive a mother who accidentally ate your father) makes her advice less than helpful. Jenny is on her own with her addiction.
I liked that Alyssa Wong managed to make Jenny both vulnerable and moral (after a fashion). She chooses her prey carefully, and she fights herself hard to protect Aiko. When she unexpectedly finds herself sat to dinner with another older, stronger member of kind, I was genuinely worried for her. Well done, Ms Wong, you made me like your monster.
In fact, there’s a lot to like in general here. The prose is delightful, with great control of tone and perspective. The pace rockets along, but the scenes are carefully poised to build character and atmosphere as well as progress the plot (and I liked the climax it built up to – top marks for narrative pay-off with an ominous clank as all the pieces fall into place and lock Jenny into an impossible situation). It’s a fine balance and it all worked well for me right up until the slightly abrupt ending – where it felt like there was a scene or a beat missing to deliver the full impact of desperate, sudden insight of the coda.
Nonetheless, it’s good stuff and it certainly achieves one goal with flying colours: I now want to read everything Alyssa Wong has ever written.
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers can be read online at Nightmare.
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