Many of the stories in Mark’s Wild Milk exist at the intersection of contemporary fairy tales and Jewish culture. In this collection of surreal stories, familiar Jewish narratives — involving rabbis, warding off the ayin hara, the Holocaust, and the receiving of the commandments — are reexamined through unexpected lenses: social media, children’s songs, American politics, a pretend film.
In “Tweet,” the narrator starts obsessively following “the Rabbi” on Twitter because “a lot of my friends are.” This story functions as a modern reworking of the Yiddish folk song “Az der Rebbe Zingt,” which satirizes the Rebbe’s ardent followers, while also evoking the goat of the Passover song “Chad Gadya” and the whale in the Book of Jonah: “At the community swimming pool there is a goat.…The Rabbi climbs inside. We follow him. It is warm. Too warm. Beautiful Lenora is here. She is following the Rabbi too. We nod to each other. Inside the goat is a tree.” The absurdism is cut with a somber reflection on gender: the women following the rabbi are “struggling to be recognized.”
The story “For the Safety of the Country” combines a post-apocalyptic plot with the idiosyncrasies of Jewish superstition, claiming that the chaperone of the new “batch” of U.S. Presidents is qualified for the job because she comes from a line of Jewish people who expect the worst: “We spit three times, we keep salt in our pockets, we wear tiny hands against our chests, we throw no baby showers…” In “My Brother Gary Made A Movie & This Is What Happened,” the narrator’s brother pretends to film the family as they lie in a heap, arguing. During filming, Gary’s recitation of the Ten Commandments implies that the pile of bodies symbolizes both a mass grave and Mount Sinai.
Marks’s use of Jewish culture and contemporary fairy tales combine into stories that challenge both discourses. By defying the cultural boundaries of American fairy tales, Mark gives us a collection that casts both mainstream and minority cultures in a new, wild light.
Allison Pitinii Davis is the author of Line Study of a Motel Clerk (Baobab Press, 2017), a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award’s Berru Award for Poetry, and Poppy Seeds (Kent State University Press, 2013), winner of the Wick Poetry Chapbook Prize. She holds fellowships from Stanford University’s Wallace Stegner program, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the Severinghaus Beck Fund for Study at Vilnius Yiddish Institute. Her poetry appeared in Best American Poetry 2016. She is a PhD student at The University of Tennessee.