Welcome back to Reading, Reading, Reading!
For the past three consecutive years (2018-2020), my first book of the year always managed to be my least favourite book of the year. And these weren’t books that I gave 2.5-3 stars to, I’m talking about 1-star books, which is insane! Thankfully, by way of reading Milk Fed by Melissa Broder, I finally broke my god-awful curse!
Rachel is twenty-four, a lapsed Jew who has made calorie restriction her religion. By day, she maintains an illusion of existential control, by way of obsessive food rituals, while working as an underling at a Los Angeles talent management agency. At night, she pedals nowhere on the elliptical machine. Rachel is content to carry on subsisting—until her therapist encourages her to take a ninety-day communication detox from her mother, who raised her in the tradition of calorie counting.
Early in the detox, Rachel meets Miriam, a zaftig young Orthodox Jewish woman who works at her favorite frozen yogurt shop and is intent upon feeding her. Rachel is suddenly and powerfully entranced by Miriam—by her sundaes and her body, her faith and her family—and as the two grow closer, Rachel embarks on a journey marked by mirrors, mysticism, mothers, milk, and honey.
Pairing superlative emotional insight with unabashed vivid fantasy, Broder tells a tale of appetites: physical hunger, sexual desire, spiritual longing, and the ways that we as humans can compartmentalize these so often interdependent instincts. Milk Fed is a tender and riotously funny meditation on love, certitude, and the question of what we are all being fed, from one of our major writers on the psyche—both sacred and profane.
I want to start off this review by explicitly stating that this book will NOT be for everyone. There are quite a few weird and disturbing fantasies that the main character, Rachel, talks about in great detail, which may be off-putting for some readers. Additionally, at the beginning of the book, you immediately recognize that Rachel is dealing with an eating disorder, and has been for the majority of her life due to childhood trauma. The book starts off with a conservation about her eating habits, which spirals into other various triggering conversations. So if that is something that may make it hard for you to read this book, I would steer clear for now.
All that being said, the book may not be for everyone, but it certainly was for me!
All of the characters in this novel were so authentic and raw, and seemed very real to me. Each character had an interesting perspective or story, and made a very different impact on Rachel throughout the short window of her life that we read about. Rachel was such a complex and layered character, who had many real flaws and issues with her life. Rachel’s odd fantasies and ideas may seem disturbing at times, but I feel like everyone can relate to her as most people share many of the odd things that she thinks about on a daily basis. I could see a lot of myself in Rachel, which contributed to why I enjoyed this novel so much. I also really appreciated Miriam, the second main-character in this novel and Rachel’s love interest. Like Rachel, she was very complex and layered, and the characteristics she had may surprise people that are not close to orthodox Jewish women. She had a mind of her own and acted like her own person, while also enjoying her religious lifestyle and family. Orthodox Jewish women are frequently looked down on in Americanized societies, so to see someone from Miriam’s religious roots make such a deep character was incredibly refreshing to read about. I would have liked to have read more about Miriam’s parents and siblings, as I found them to be very intriguing characters.
The writing of this story was quite simple, but very raw. When I read first-person narratives, I often find that the author is describing the main characters thoughts instead of simply writing them from their point of view. In this story, Broder writes the story so well, that everytime I picked up this novel, I was immersed into Rachel’s mind and could clearly understand her thoughts and where they were coming from.
My most favourite part about this book was the Jewish representation. Judaism is a very important aspect and theme in this book, as their are a few conversations that revolve around religion, culturally Jewish traditions, and the aspect of sexuality in Judaism. As a Jewish women, I hardly ever find myself represented in books. I have several friends and family friends that are very observant/religious, and to see Miriam live her life as a religious Jewish women was SO exciting to read about. My favourite scenes in this novel was when Rachel attends Miriam’s family’s shabbat dinner, as I found it so authentic and real, from the food they were eating, to the way they were having their conversations. Throughout the novel, Rachel continuously thinks about the Jewish chant/song titled “Eitz Chaim Hi”, which was so wonderful to me, as that is my favourite Jewish “shul song” as well. Not only was the culture of Judaism a frequent theme in this novel, but there were also some incredibly interesting conversations between Rachel and Miriam about Judaism, including a conversation between Rachel and Miriam’s mother about the state of Israel. It was so refreshing to showcase that just because an individual is Jewish, they may not always agree with how Israel is run, much like how an American, or even Canadian person may not like how their government leaders run their respective homelands. That conversation was a huge turning point in the novel, but also helped to show readers that not all Jewish people are the same. Diverse representation is incredibly important in literature, and I hope that I will be able to find and read more books that revolve around complex Jewish characters, such as the ones found in Milk Fed.
Overall, I rated this novel 5/5 stars. It was one of the most perfect books I have read in a long, long time, and I look forward to picking up Melissa Broder’s future novels. If you are interested in reading this novel, it comes out in (online) bookstores today! Thank you so much to Simon and Schuster Canada for sending me an ARC of this novel to review!
Good Night Book Owls!