Hugo reading 2018: The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller

Why yes, I have been at home today, feeling largely too crampy and depressed to do much.

Which is why I had time to read another novel, The Art of Starving, by Sam J. Miller.

It was not the right novel for my mood.  Or maybe it really, really was.  To be fair, I don’t think I was ever going to love this one, especially in this context.

The Art of Starving
is told in the first person by Matt, who is not having a great time.  He is gay and getting a hard time for it at school, though his mother doesn’t know.  His sister has run away from home, and he’s pretty sure that someone did something terrible to her before she went and that it’s his job to avenge her.  His mother’s job at the meatpacking factory is looking increasingly insecure, and his father isn’t in the picture.

But he doesn’t have an eating disorder.  It’s all perfectly under control, and besides, when you don’t eat, your hunger means that you sense the world more sharply, perhaps even to a degree that is supernatural and allows you to smell what people are thinking and feeling.

So yeah.  He totally has an eating disorder.  There are calorie counts on every chapter heading.  I’m guessing that this would be as triggery as all hell for anyone with an actual eating disorder.

This book frustrated me immensely.  For one thing… it was pretty clear to me from about page 2 what one of the Deep Dark Secrets was going to be.  For another, it was really painful to be inside the head of someone who was doing that to himself.  And for a third thing… these are the Hugo Awards, not the Newberry Awards, so there ought to be some SFF elements, and there weren’t, really.  Or… they were so tenuous that it was possible to spend 90% of the book being pretty sure that this was a combination of the illness and wishful thinking.  The end sort-of-mostly confirms that they were real, but honestly, I wouldn’t call this speculative fiction.  This is an Issues book and a YA book, and I’ve seen more SFF elements in books that were shelved in the straight YA section.

Was it well-written?  Probably.  The author clearly has a real handle on eating disorders (unsurprisingly, since he mentions in the afterword that he suffered from one), and he certainly understands the hell that is being a teenager.  But there were no real surprises in this book, and I felt like I had read similar things before which I had enjoyed more.

This definitely goes below Summer in Orcus for me, and I’m probably going to put it at the bottom of my ballot, because as mentioned above, I don’t think it really belongs on a Hugo nomination list.  It’s a pity, because I can think of several ways to take this premise and make it more interesting, and/or more SF-nal.  But that’s not what the author did or was trying to do.

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