MILK FED. OH MY GOD. I LOVED THIS ABSOLUTELY CRAZY BOOK. This is one of my favorite books I have read this year. I almost DNF'd in the beginning because it had major eating disorder triggers (more TW for body dysmorphia, fat phobia, sex) but I stuck with it and I am so so glad I did. Bookstagrammers @dclazygirl and @suzyreadsbooks turned me onto this book and made me bump it up my list, where once I began, I finished in less than 24 hours. You could say I devoured it completely and left no crumbs.
The novel follows Rachel, who is a lapsed Jew in her mid-20s who, by the overwhelming critique of her mother, has made calorie restriction her main religion. She works a 9-5 at talent management agency in the loathsome Los Angeles area, surrounded by wannabes and gossipers. She maintains her control in her life by trying to control what she eats with obsessive food rituals and by the suggestion of her therapist in the beginning, cutting all contact off with her overzealous and boundary-crossing mother. Immediately following her initial detox from her mother, Rachel meets Miriam, an Orthodox Jew who overfeeds her at a frozen yogurt shop. From there, the story gets immensely messy and delicious.
I read Broder's essay collection So Sad Today a few years ago and loved it, but remember it made me uncomfy (in a good way) so I knew I had to be prepared for this one going in. I found it at the perfect time. The chapters are short and choppy and makes you want to keep reading, reading, make a fridge frozen pizza with pepperoni onions relish freshly grated gouda, no sleep, read some more, grab a bottle of wine, twist the top off, drink straight from the bottle with your hands wrapped tightly around the neck, eat a shit load of pickles wrapped in cream cheese and dried beef, read, read, shove a caramel coated ice cream drumstick in your mouth, and read some more.
The descriptions of food are glorious and abundant and intentional. As a person who grew up with more “Should you be eating that?” and “Are you sure you aren’t full?” quips instead of “Yes, have another creamy slice of citrusy lemon meringue pie!” and “Aren’t these thai-glazed chicken drummies just scrumptious?!” I understood what Broder was trying to say. Melissa Broder's descriptors make you crave your favorite foods and take your food triggers head on. Women are often raised to associate their eating habits with trauma their mother passed down upon them and we often inherit the same relationships with food that our mothers have. It is no wonder in this novel that with the detox Rachel is experiencing with her mother, she’s constantly searching for motherly love from other female figures in her life. Our mothers, whose breasts and hands feed us as babies in their arms, filling us up with comfort and love and nutrients, go through a backwards evolution as we grow from their knees to their shoulders and start to think maybe it’d be better for us if we just starve a little bit. Stop eating so much. Only eat vegetables. No carbs. Make yourself smaller. Smaller. Smaller.
Broder's prose is like word vomit in the absolute best way. She truly knows how to make your skin crawl in both utmost desire and complete resentment. She makes you straight up addicted to peeking deeper and deeper into Rachel, the narrator's head. She bothers you because she is you, but you also want to cuddle her and lay your head on her soft, supple belly.
This book was so wonderful for me because the main focus of the entire book is a fat woman. I am a fat woman. And the fat woman in the story never ONCE brings up her own fatness. It is fucking great. But, her fatness is not glazed over, ignored, or loved "in spite of" by the narrator. She sees it, notices it, and loves it wholeheartedly. It reminded me that I am a fat goddess. The outrageous display of supporting characters also uniquely showcase how everyone is looking for control in their life by one way or another, whether that be by eating, by worshipping, by treating your kid like shit because maybe it makes you hate yourself less.
My favorite scene is probably when the Jewish narrator went on an anti-Zionist rampage that mostly consisted of thought-provoking questions directed towards the Jewish head of the household of the fat girl she is secretly loving. She didn't hold firm opposition because she doesn't have all the answers, which I thought was refreshing and reminded me to look more into the occupation of Palestine. The narrator held her ground as the head of the household tried to dominate the conversation and convince Jewish Rachel that she must hate herself if she didn't want Jews to be given their homeland. It was an amazing scene and it made me more than ever want this immediately made into a tv series. PLEASE WRITE THIS INTO A TV SCREENPLAY. I am quite literally begging.
As a twenty-something woman raised by a mother who had her own body dysmorphia to grapple with, I never get sick of novels that take on mother/daughter dynamics. I didn't want this story to end. I am now a major Broder super fan and am going to skyrocket her first novel The Pisces up my TBR list. This book is out in February and you all should pre-order this crazy fever dream. LOOK AT THE COVER. Preorder. Preorder. Preorder. Give that designer a raise.
"The world will hurt you again and again. You will hurt yourself again and again. And when it does, and when you do, you will remember me again and again. You will drop to your knees. You will hold yourself. You will be your own daughter again."
By Melissa Broder
304 pages. February 2021.