Everybody should read this book.
This gut punch of a novel, from one of the best short fiction authors writing today.
This term typically makes me roll my eyes, but very quickly as I read Sam J. Miller’s The Art of Starving, I felt like this was an “important” book. And it is. But it’s not just important in the sense that it might speak to readers who might resonate with some part of Matt: bullied teens, gay, with eating disorders, struggling for their place in the world. The Art of Starving is full of well-worded lessons that don’t read as preachy or cliche. And not all of them are comforting.
She thinks I’m a child who needs to be protected from the horrors of grown-ups, because she somehow forgot that the world of children has its own horrors. And that the world of teenagers holds the horrors of both.
Miller is in top form, and fans of his short fiction will feel at home in this world: one casually indifferent to the marginalized. I was particularly reminded of his award-nominated “We Are the Cloud” and his recently-published “The Ways Out”
As to the actual story: The “Art” of Starving is like the Art of War; there are rules, and this book will lay them out. This format makes the book highly readable, a semi-diary format that also tracks Matt’s calories, because he’s not eating. He’s not eating because he believes not eating gives him powers, and those powers will help him find his sister, Maya.
That one crucial word in the synopsis, “believes,” is key. The reader, sympathizing, follows Matt through a harrowing exploration of his abilities as he gains telepathy, astral projection, insight to the universe. The reader, empathizing, watches Matt destroy himself with the delusions concomitant with mental illness. Miller straddles this line well, but it’s not about the truth of Matt’s powers: it’s about, abstractly and overtly, what they reveal about him and his world, from his town to his family to the pigs being slaughtered for their meat.
The Art of Starving is one of my most anticipated books of the year, and it did not disappoint. This is a book everyone should read. Maybe it was written for you, because you’ve felt that sharp, painful hunger, and you know it’s bad for you, but the gifts you think it brings you are worth it. Maybe you’ve felt the illnesses Miller describes, have been in those rooms, and can appreciate the writing. Maybe none of that is true. All the more reason you might need it.
Over thousands of years, the little differences between bodies add up to genetic drift, the differentiation of species. Evolution. So remember this the next time you curse some knob of fat or funny-shaped thumb, or sexual predilection for something society says you shouldn’t predilect: your differences might make you miserable, but they might also make you better.
also posted on Goodreads.