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.

book review: So Sad Today by Melissa Broder

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SO SAD TODAY by Melissa Broder
★★★★☆
Grand Central Publishing, 2016

 

As she proved in her invigorating novel The Pisces, Melissa Broder is nothing if not candid. Her essay collection So Sad Today makes an interesting companion read, especially due to a main criticism you’ll often hear of The Pisces: that Lucy (the main character) isn’t ‘likable’ enough. I hadn’t known much about Melissa Broder’s personal life before reading So Sad Today, but I understandably came away from it with the strong impression that Broder modeled Lucy after herself; in which case, can we extend the same complaint to this book, and how much is likability tied to worth? Broder doesn’t spare herself in these essays: she can be selfish, hypocritical, vain, needy, and emotionally distant, but I don’t think she, or anyone, should have to sanitize themselves in an essay collection that focuses on the tension between being authentic to yourself and being accepted by others.

As for the writing style itself, the essays that erred on the side of conversational were consistently my least favorites (I have never enjoyed reading other people’s text message exchanges and I wasn’t about to start here). But the more literary essays I thought were incisive and piercing; make no mistake, this isn’t a scholarly, academic exploration of the many many themes that she introduces – loneliness, sex, mental illness, addiction – but instead it’s a fiercely personal collection that will probably succeed in striking a chord with most readers at one point or another, despite the fact that the details of Broder’s life may be difficult to relate to. For me it was the essay on depression and anxiety that hit the hardest, with lines like this particularly resonating: “For someone with anxiety, dramatic situations are, in a way, more comfortable than the mundane. In dramatic situations the world rises to meet your anxiety. When there are no dramatic situations available, you turn the mundane into the dramatic.”

Ultimately if you don’t get on with crude, vulgar writing, you won’t get on with this, though I wouldn’t suggest that it’s only crude for the sake of being crude. In both her novel and nonfiction, Broder excels at exploring the uglier sides of human behavior and examining the underlying neuroses and insecurities that propel us to act in unsavory ways. But I will say, if you have emetophobia, please for the love of god be smarter than I was and skip the essay about her vomit fetish.


You can pick up a copy of So Sad Today here on Book Depository.

book review: The Pisces by Melissa Broder

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THE PISCES by Melissa Broder
★★★★★
Hogarth Press, May 1, 2018

I want to make this clear for those of you who get recommendations off me: The Pisces is not my usual kind of book. Anything shelved as both fantasy and romance would ordinarily get an automatic pass from me. But this wonderful review from Hannah piqued my curiosity, so against my better judgment I decided to request it and leave it up to the Netgalley gods to see whether or not I’d read it. I was approved approximately 2 minutes later, so that was that.

Thankfully, The Pisces was pretty incredible, and it just reaffirmed my tendency to occasionally read outside my comfort zone. It’s a sort of literary soft erotica story about a woman who falls in love with a merman, but I feel like that description sells it short. Broder’s writing is smart and sharp, and her story goes a lot deeper than your average mermaid erotica (or maybe the mermaid erotica genre has hidden depths and I’m just over here showing off my ignorance for underestimating it).

Anyway, a lot of that is down to our protagonist, Lucy. Lucy is 38 years old, has been working on her PhD thesis on Sappho for years and has since become disillusioned with it, and her love life is a disaster. She’s also kind of awful. She’s not a particularly nice person, and it’s hard to root for her – but I still want to, through everything. This is Lucy’s journey to accept herself and reconcile her obsession with love with her fear of intimacy, and what could be more human than that? Also, because of Lucy’s studies on Sappho, her narration is fused with allusions to Greek mythology and the classics, so I guess this book wasn’t 100% outside of my wheelhouse.

And then there’s the fantastical element. This was what I was worried about going in, but I ended up loving it. I feel like it’s treated by the narrative with a certain amount of self-awareness toward its inherent absurdity, which makes it all the more endearing.

This is not going to be for everyone. Don’t read this if you can’t stomach graphic sex scenes, or if you don’t enjoy reading about unlikable characters, or if you’re looking for something with the same sort of whimsical fairytale feel as The Shape of WaterThe Pisces is both grittier and funnier, sexier and somehow less romantic. It’s both a fun read and an unexpectedly hard-hitting one, and with its absolutely stunning conclusion, I’ll probably be thinking about it for days to come.

Thank you to Netgalley, Hogarth Press, and Melissa Broder for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.