book review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder





MILK FED by Melissa Broder
★★★★☆
Scribner, February 2, 2021


Milk Fed just goes to show that you can love a book and still be incredibly disappointed in it. After I read the first 30%, I was convinced that this was going to be my favorite book of the year. Ultimately it did lose a bit of steam and I can’t help but to mourn for the exceptional book that it could have been, but nevertheless, I still enjoyed this so much and recommend it wholehearted to the right reader.

Milk Fed, Broder’s sophomore novel following her sensational debut The Pisces, follows Rachel, a lapsed Jewish woman who works at a talent agency in LA and spends every waking hour of her days counting calories and fixating on her diet. Her therapist recommends a detox from her emotionally abusive mother, who Rachel usually calls every day. Mid-detox, she meets Miriam, an Orthodox woman who works at Rachel’s local frozen yogurt place, who Rachel becomes fixated on, leading to a breakdown of her carefully constructed food rituals. 

Broder’s books are messy, piercing, gritty, and deeply, deeply funny–it’s a recipe that works perfectly to my tastes. (Also, if you’re familiar with LA and/or into bougie LA culture… her books are such a treat.) Rachel is a character whose head I bizarrely enjoyed inhabiting, in spite of or perhaps because of the sheer level of toxicity. Rachel was so convincing and well-crafted that I felt like I knew her intimately after only a few pages. Melissa Broder really excels at sharp and specific characterization where a lot of books in the ‘disaster woman’ genre tend to opt for a more ‘generic millennial every-woman’ approach (which I’ve certainly seen done well, but which I think I may be a bit burnt out on). Where this book falters is in its introduction of Miriam and her family–the pace slows, the focus shifts, Rachel’s behavior becomes slightly less intelligible. Still, while I ultimately felt that Broder could have used a defter hand in editing to get it up to the high standard she set for herself in The Pisces, I honestly loved spending time with this book. It’s not for everyone, but if you gravitate toward the slightly fucked up and absurd, you’ll probably love this too.

Massive trigger warning for eating disorders (in many different forms, though calorie counting is a big one). Probably other things too, but that’s the big one.

Thanks to Netgalley and Scribner for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

18 thoughts on “book review: Milk Fed by Melissa Broder

  1. I’m fascinated by this (lifelong chronic illness which triggered disordered eating, helloooooo), but have found myself shying away from it lest Broder fail to avoid disaster woman trope-age, which I feel she did do in The Pisces. Will still probably give it a go, but with lowered expectations…

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    • Oh heyyyy trauma induced emetophobia which triggered a lifetime of disordered eating over here, high five. I think you’ll find this really compelling and fascinating. For me Broder was able to swerve the ‘everywoman millennial disaster woman’ thing but then again I thought she did that successfully in The Pisces too. Still, they’re very different books, there’s definitely a chance this will work better for you.

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      • No I thought The Pisces was good! I’ll keep this one on the TBR, very glad to know that you also came to this from a place of Weird Food Shit and liked it.

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      • Oh GOT IT, misunderstood that part of your comment. Yes, defo avoids generic disaster woman syndrome in a similar way to The Pisces!

        Honestly I read the first page and thought fuck me this is so triggering I can’t read this shit, and then I persevered slightly out of masochism and ended up devouring it (pun intended). Obviously this book is going to hit SO differently for people with a history of disordered eating and I feared it would be in an ‘ugh this is excruciating’ kind of way but ended up being in a ‘lol I feel seen’ kind of way.

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      • It’s, um, pretty smutty! And the calorie-counting is kind of hard to take. But it’s still entertaining so far. What was it like sharing a name with the protagonist? I can imagine you laughed as you read lines like “Young Rachel was always getting excited and then being popped like a balloon animal.”

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      • Do you think I should amend my trigger warning to include calorie counting specifically? I guess I might as well, right. Eating disorders is a pretty huge umbrella and it’s kind of A Lot to take.

        Hahahha it was pretty funny but honestly I stopped noticing after a while. I went to a VERY Jewish university and a solid 50% of the girls there were named Rachel, I’m used to it 😂

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    • I feel you. It’s funny, I had never even heard of Broder before I read The Pisces, which quickly became one of my favorite books ever–now I follow her Twitter and am like WOW, TORTURED GENIUS though I know I’d find her fucking insufferable if I hadn’t read her fiction first. JUST ONE OF THOSE THINGS. But I do hope you give her a chance at some point, she’s a much smarter writer than you’d guess from her Twitter.

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  2. Ooh, I’m glad to see you did end up liking so much about this one! The Pisces is such a hard act to follow that I’ve been simultaneously really excited for Milk Fed and also afraid to actually pick it up, especially after Hannah and Naty were somewhat disappointed. Your review makes me slightly more optimistic, and going in expecting to find a few flaws will probably help overall. Great review!

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