Book Review

Milk Fed

Milk Fed

  • Author: Melissa Broder
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Publication Date: February 2, 2021
  • Publisher: Scribner

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this book. I am providing my honest opinion voluntarily.

CONTENT WARNING: graphic description of an eating disorder, emotional abuse, sexually erotic activities and fantasies, homophobia

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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’ve never read a book like this before. Just be aware — this isn’t a book for the faint of heart or those who are triggered by the content, which is graphic. 

Rachel’s life is empty, and she fills it up by obsessing about food and calories. She has a dysfunctional and unhealthy relationship with her mother, and the communication detox brings her mother issues to the forefront, along with some other issues.

When Rachel encounters Miriam, a Modern Orthodox Jewish woman, she starts a journey of discovery. She starts learning about herself, religion, faith, family, and love. I enjoyed seeing how such different forms of Judaism intersect, and watching Rachel discover different aspects of faith, religion, and spirituality after she had grown so distant from what she had grown up with. However, there’s a disconnect between religion and sexuality in the book.

The beginning of the book focuses deeply on Rachel’s disordered eating habits — detailing her eating rituals, her exercise routine, and her emotional connection to these patterns. She deliberately cultivates an empty lifestyle so that nothing interferes with her plans, and rolls happiness and being thin into one concept. 

As she detaches from her mother, she begins to see other women as mother figures, yet she has erotic fantasies about them as well. Rachel is incredibly unhappy, and is seeking any kind of acceptance. She was never able to find it from her mother, and tries to find it anywhere that she can, even when it involves contorting herself to be something or someone that she isn’t. 

In addition to her unhealthy habits, Rachel quickly develops unhealthy and obsessive patterns of behavior around other people. For the majority of the story, Miriam is the center of Rachel’s focus. I really felt like Miriam really got in over her head and had no idea what she was in for. On the other hand, Rachel’s character led to a variety of cringe-worthy situations over the course of the book. At times, the writing was a bit cringe-worthy at times as well. 

I honestly wasn’t sure what to make of the book, although I couldn’t stop reading. It was almost like watching a train crash and being unable to look away. While the majority of the books I’ve read like this were chock-full of characters I couldn’t help but hate, this book was packed with characters that I didn’t hate so much as those that I just felt sorry for. I wanted to see Rachel find a path to happiness and self-acceptance, and to learn how to love herself instead of hoping to find acceptance from someone who just wasn’t able to give it to her. 

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