Here’s a non-recommendation that I’ll never forget.
My friend Greg had just watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire in the theatre and he was telling me all about it. From what I can recall, he enjoyed it quite a bit and his enthusiasm was very evident. When he was finished, I asked him, “should I watch it?” He paused for a moment and then said, “No. I don’t think you should.”
I appreciated that so much. I mean, obviously. I’m still talking about it twelve years later. What I found so appealing was that he actually considered the audience and weighed what he knew about me and my personal taste and decided he didn’t want to take on the responsibility of having me watch something he wasn’t sure would elicit the same response he had.
I take my recommendations seriously and I finally got a sign that I’m not the only one.
People in LA were always recommending things that were more about themselves than the recipient. They recommended obsessively – films, Netflix series – as though their association with a piece of media imbued them with sex appeal, intelligence, an irresistible whimsy. When I felt a recommendation coming on, I’d lie and say I’d already seen the thing: just so I didn’t have to hear the plot explained. Did anyone genuinely like anything? So much art was bad. I preferred the work of dead people. At least the dead weren’t on Twitter.Excerpted from Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
I need to
get devote a notebook to record how books end up on my TBR list. Sometimes when I read a book that I really love (or that I find super annoying or whatever) I wish I could trace my steps back and either beg the recommender for more or never take an offender’s recommendation seriously again.
Milk Fed by Melissa Broder
I think this is how I came across this book. I *adored* the book Milk Blood Heat by Dantiel W. Moniz (I posted about it here) so when these books landed in the same “milky” event (cute!) I looked into the one I hadn’t read and I knew I wanted to. Fast forward to a few months later and here we are. When I picked it up from the library, I knew I should read it first and once I started, it was done in a flash.
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
When we meet Rachel, it’s very evident we are going to be going on a journey together. She is obsessive about her eating and her body and her relationship with her mother (“I could feel her opening an emotional spreadsheet that began with the womb. This is why I never confronted her. Now we’d have to go traipsing through it together, call by cell, until I retracted everything.”) and, clearly, the only way to go is up.
Enter Miriam (who, right or wrong, I picture to be a lot like Zoey Barkow, Merritt Weaver’s character in Nurse Jackie) who is in all ways the opposite of Rachel. She’s connected to her family, she has appreciative relationships with food and a jovial demeanour. Yes! What an odd pair! She is so obviously the catalyst for our adventure!
It’s quite a ride to witness their evolution from acquaintances to friends to lovers and Rachel’s expansion and growth in that time. It isn’t always easy or fun, in fact, sometimes it is downright painful, but it makes for a great story.
I get a bad rap for being drawn to sad things, but there are many ways that I love love stories. I just don’t fit the norm because traditional is rarely one of them – and traditional, this story is not. Rachel and Miriam exist in a bubble that only the reader has the privilege to look in on. Theirs is a love story, but more importantly, it is a story of personal realization, power, and healing. Sure, there are some pretty extreme (read: unbelievable) circumstances and a few cringe-worthy sexual encounters, but I was able to forgive them in exchange for the enjoyment of rest of it. What makes this book so entertaining is the sharp, quirky and totally ridiculous/relatable Rachel.
If you’re sensitive to talk about disordered eating or distorted body image, steer clear of this book because there is a lot of both.
Given all my talk of recommendations, I couldn’t resist sharing a few. These are books that, if you loved them, would indicate to me that you should read Milk Fed (and I suppose this list could work in the opposite direction a là if you loved Milk Fed then you should read…):
- Sad Janet by Lucie Britsch
- My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh
- Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead by Emily Austin
- Temporary by Hilary Leichter
- Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (full disclosure, I will find a way to put this on every list, but it is very accurate here)
What is the name for this genre? Female protagonists who are kind of funny, but also pretty sad. My Bookstagram pal Troy calls it “unhinged female narrators/protagonists” and I feel like we could tighten that up, but I am so here every last word of it. Whatever you want to call it.
This is Melissa Broder’s second novel (yes, I have already picked up a copy of The Pisces from my library) and she has also published a book of essays and four poetry collections. She’s pretty active on Twitter and can also be found on Instagram. (She has a website, but it didn’t seem to be working when I tried it.)
P.S. I did eventually watch Slumdog Millionaire years later and I actually really liked it.