cover image The Realm of Hungry Spirits

The Realm of Hungry Spirits

Lorraine López, Grand Central, $13.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-446-54963-9

In López's second novel, 33-year-old schoolteacher Marina Lucero struggles to free herself from a demanding gaggle of friends and family. Skeptical of religion because of her zealot parents, Marina tries to draw spiritual guidance from the Dalai Lama and Gandhi, but selfless generosity is a constant struggle when an endless parade of down-on-their-luck sycophants turn to her for support. An abused next-door neighbor, a shiftless nephew, a bereaved stepdaughter, and a self-absorbed younger sister are among the needy who find their way to Marina's open door. Rudy, Marina's ex-boyfriend, who dumped her on Valentine's Day, reappears with a laundry list of desires while Rudy's best friend, a self-styled Santeria priest, threatens her with the "evil eye" unless she gives him a character reference. Tragedies major and minor pile up, and Marina starts to feel as though she might, indeed, have been cursed. But she resolves to perform her own self-styled spiritual cleansing and reclaim her life. Through snappy dialogue and rich detail, López ( The Gifted Gabaldón Sisters) creates characters who are lovable even at their most irritating, and the perpetually ridiculous demands of Marina's "hungry spirits" provide moments of hilarious dark comedy—but the overall buildup of grievances becomes repetitive, and Marina doesn't evolve much over the course of the story. (May)