Milk Fed

  • Review
By – January 28, 2021

At the start of Melis­sa Broder’s nov­el Milk Fed, twen­ty-four-year-old Rachel is begin­ning a ther­a­pist-rec­om­mend­ed detox” from her over­bear­ing moth­er, who has always been crit­i­cal of the way she eats. Rachel has inter­nal­ized her mother’s voice so well her every­day food is both tight­ly con­trolled and joy­less — for lunch, she eats a Sub­way sal­ad with no dress­ing (“a mod­est caloric total of 160”) fol­lowed by plain frozen yogurt (“just 45 calo­ries for half a cup”).

One day, Rachel goes to buy her dai­ly frozen yogurt and meets the new serv­er, Miri­am. Although Rachel doesn’t quite real­ize it, Miri­am looks just like the self-por­trait” she had made out of clay dur­ing a pre­vi­ous ther­a­py ses­sion — in Jew­ish folk­lore, a golem. Miri­am is plump and, unlike Rachel, appears to eat what­ev­er she wants. Rachel is imme­di­ate­ly attract­ed to her. She is also attract­ed to Miriam’s com­mit­ment to her Ortho­dox faith; Rachel grew up Reform and is now, she says, sort of noth­ing.” The two strike up a friend­ship and romance, with the zaftig girl” tak­ing Rachel out to eat kosher Chi­nese food (even lit­er­al­ly feed­ing her at one point) and bring­ing her to Shab­bat din­ner at the fam­i­ly home.

It seems to be no acci­dent that Rachel fan­ta­sizes about high-calo­rie food using lov­ing, even mater­nal, lan­guage: the bur­ri­tos she cov­ets are warm babies swad­dled up tight in blan­kets” and lat­er, when a cowork­er shames her, she thinks that she would like to just tuck [her­self] into the warm piz­za cheese and drape the mush­room over [her­self].”

Broder is prob­a­bly best known for the essay col­lec­tion So Sad Today, based on her Twit­ter account of the same name. Milk Fed, her sec­ond nov­el, is sim­i­lar in tone to Ottes­sa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relax­ation and Halle Butler’s The New Me—both of which fea­ture young women who are priv­i­leged, but also emo­tion­al­ly vacant and often unlik­able. Rachel is all of the above, in addi­tion to being judg­men­tal and inse­cure (“Any gaze that increased in its esteem of me made me feel val­i­dat­ed: like I was earn­ing my exis­tence”). But that is not a crit­i­cism of the nov­el, as Milk Fed is just so read­able and Broder seems to have a lot of affec­tion for her pro­tag­o­nist. In par­tic­u­lar, Broder has made Rachel very fun­ny, espe­cial­ly in her day­dreams about food — in one sur­re­al moment, she sees Miri­am as a giant chal­lah bread in front of her, shim­my­ing as if beck­on­ing [her] to come dance with it.”

Near the end of the nov­el, Broder under­cuts Rachel’s vision of Miriam’s per­fect life — Miriam’s moth­er is per­haps just as over­bear­ing as Rachel’s, and Miri­am may nev­er be able to (or may not choose to) shape a future of her own cre­ation. But per­haps it was nev­er real­ly about Miri­am; on the last page of the nov­el, Rachel has a dream and learns that in Hebrew, golem means unfin­ished sub­stance” — sug­gest­ing that although her clay golem is long gone, she will always have the chance to remake her­self and her future.

Discussion Questions