Down to Your Bones
The Starving Queen
By Dean Italiano
To quote Dean Italiano’s bio:
Dean Italiano lives with G and their twin boys in Waterloo, ON. Author of Pain Machine, Spirits and Death in Niagara, and Katrina and the Frenchman: A Journal from the Street, Dean also works with G musically to produce CDs Johnny Gruesome and From Skull Tavern, and occasionally does some artwork as well. By day, Dean works in a wonderfully busy elementary school Library. You can find more information at picpublishing.ca.
2017’s The Starving Queen is a stand-alone urban fantasy.
Bev managed to escape the Starving Queen. Her daughter Jasmine won’t be so lucky.
Bev has tried to avoid instilling in her daughter Jasmine the same body issues that have tormented her. But Jasmine has nonetheless fallen into the clutches of the Starving Queen.
Jasmine aimed at athletic prowess — something that Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis has stolen from her. No longer able to exercise strenuously, she has slowly gained weight as she focuses on her academic efforts. When Jasmine notices, she over-reacts in a self-destructive way, by starving herself.
She is living away from her family and her boyfriend is preoccupied with his job and his personal problems. No one has noticed that she is gradually wasting away. Her roommate, who should perhaps have noticed, is anorexic and has dieted to the point of organ failure. Jasmine is so far healthy, but this will not last…..
The novelist’s conceit is that the Starving Queen is an other-worldly entity inadvertently called into being by Sir William Withey Gull’s naming of her in 18731, rather like Pratchett’s Great God Om. The Starving Queen exists and thrives only so long as humans starve themselves. It turns out that it’s not that hard to convince humans to do so, given the correct cultural context.
Italiano’s book posits a whole pantheon of beings devoted to making humans feel bad about themselves. The Queen exists in an ecological niche inhabited by other malefic deities2. In the real world, we don’t need semi-divine figures to encourage self-destructive behavior. We have corporations and celebrities for that.
Despite the handwaving re supernatural subversion, for the most part Italiano’s novel is a straightforward depiction of how a couple of badly timed setbacks can send someone into a spiral of self-destruction. That’s what comes of trying to derive a functioning intelligence from a haphazard collection of habits, instincts, and tropisms running on a difference engine composed of fatty meat. In the context of “human minds are legacy-ware originally designed to find brightly coloured fruit,” it’s not at all surprising that so many of the characters in the book fall prey to cognitive errors. The wonder is that humans function at all.
The Starving Queen is available here (Amazon) and here (Chapters-Indigo).
1: In reality, anorexia nervosa existed before 1873. Gull simply gave it a name.
2: Granted, sometimes an organism can take a long time to discover an exploitable niche. It took the better part of a hundred million years for bacteria and roaches to team up to eat wood.