On the Shelf
By Melissa BroderScribner: 304 pages, $26
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Five account into our aboriginal call, Melissa Broder makes acceptable on her acceptability for accepting no filter. In a hardly baldheaded down, back-mouthed Philadelphia accent, she says that alike admitting her abettor “cut about 50%” of references to the clitoris in her new novel, “Milk Fed,” she still had to apologize to the complete tech ecology her audiobook recording. “I apperceive it’s Monday,” she told him, “I’m absolutely sorry. It’s 11 a.m. and you’ve heard the chat … like, 30 times already out of my mouth.”
“Milk Fed” is a romp. The adventure of a calorie-obsessed L.A. beatnik on Hollywood’s basal rung who avalanche for a plus-size woman she meets at a froyo shop, it is additionally a celebration of actual juices and basic fingers and beef afterwards beef of delight. There is, afterwards all, a giant, pert, blush nipple on its cover, like a Kandinsky fatigued with a protractor.
“Sex is my Arctic Star,” Broder says. In her aboriginal novel, “The Pisces,” a antagonistic Sappho academic called Lucy has a adulation activity with Theo, a merman. “As we kissed,” she recounts, “I absurd bistro his appendage with garlic butter.” It’s one of the novel’s tamest moments. Later, there’s a arena involving menstrual claret that’s anxious but additionally freeing; her autograph consistently performs an affecting tango with those two sensations.
Broder fabricated her name with the Twitter handle @sosadtoday, dispensing soul-deflating aphorisms to a million-plus followers, a avant-garde depressive’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. The augment spawned an article accumulating of the aforementioned name, announcement Broder in abounding flower. She declared her aboriginal acme at age 10, “humping a four-foot George Jetson baby while a bootleg band of vomiting” played on her Walkman. One article is mostly a copy-pasted argument cilia absolute fantasies about sex in an air shaft, 127 beeline hours of articulate amusement and favoriting tweets mid-orgasm. It’s one of the woes of my autograph activity that bi-weekly conventions anticipate me from accouterment added detail. (Her parents, in case you are worrying, do not apprehend her work.)
If you’re a little shocked, well, that’s intended. But Broder comes by her provocations honestly. They are built-in of her coercion to acknowledge the strangest or darkest or ugliest genitalia of herself afore addition abroad can betrayal her.
Broder says “Milk Fed” began in academy as “the affliction abbreviate adventure ever” but lingered in her apperception for years afterward. Afterwards active in L.A. for several years, the author, who grew up in Philly’s Main Line suburbs, acquainted pulled aback into the story. “I started activity this anxious for the ability of deism of my adolescence … the warm, angelic feeling” of a college power. Not to acknowledgment a acceptable nosh: “My aboriginal memories of my adoration apprenticeship would be architecture a sukkah out of graham absurd and icing it at Hebrew school, and again burglary the capacity and binge-eating the sukkah.”
(Scribner Book Company)
Out of this homesickness emerged Rachel, a aptitude bureau bombinate alone from her East Coast parents but still bound to her mother’s invectives about her weight (“the adoration of our household: abstain! abstain! abstain!”). Her one-woman band of low-cal bondage chugs forth miserably until she meets ample Miriam, the admired babe of a abutting Avant-garde Orthodox family. They eat, they grope, they blast up adjoin the belief of their selves.
It’s a adventure E.M. Forster could accept mapped out altogether in “Aspects of the Novel.” The anecdotal arc ratchets up from hand-holding to cuddle and at its acme there is, of course, a climax. It additionally snuggles appropriate into the candied atom of Broder’s interests, breadth ache and raunch overlap. “‘Milk Fed’ is absolutely a adventure of the appetite,” Broder explains. Sex becomes a aperture drug, a agency to bolt up addition else’s life. If you can bacchanal in addition else’s abundance, you don’t charge any of your own.
Rachel lives with aloof a couch and bed — a rug is “too abundant commitment” — “in the mid-city, mid-Wilshire, Miracle Mile area,” a nothingish home in a nowhereish neighborhood. Broder’s house, meanwhile, is on a arced artery in the hills arctic of UCLA, and the little bend I can see is chaste white: a covering couch, a affidavit pillow and brittle walls, all hardly apparent from one another.
“I could alive in an abandoned allowance and be fine, a dispersed white, like nothingness,” Broder says. She wears all black, with two gold necklaces, a simple alternation and a nameplate that reads “Nicky,” for her husband. Her “crew,” she says laughing, is aloof him and her admired accomplishment dog, Pickle. She meditates alert a day, walks UCLA’s campus alert to Italo Calvino on tape, dictates her assignment to Siri and shops at Gelson’s. That’s it. No hobbies. Hardly any TV. But back she spins her laptop to appearance me the blow of her space, there are bags of books and tossed sweaters. The bits of activity is aloof out of frame, the astriction amid adjustment and anarchy self-evident.
“My oldest accord is my abounding accord with aliment and my body,” she says while chewing a allotment of Nicorette, a $200-a-month catholicon for all her above habits (alcohol, drugs, smoking, binge-eating — “it’s, like, how abounding things can you quit?”). Back she was a child, her mother would ask, “Do you appetite to be a chubbette or do you appetite boys to like you?” In her article “I Appetite to Be a Whole Actuality but Absolutely Thin,” Broder capacity her constant caloric numbers game. She was anorexic in aerial academy and spent months bistro alone fat-free muffins and chicken. “There accept been actual few canicule in the accomplished eight years that I haven’t had a bake yam with Splenda in it.”
Minus the yam, Rachel’s activity follows a agnate pattern. She is “in recovery” from confused bistro too, Broder says, “but how abundant accretion can a actuality expect? What do we apprehend of ourselves?” And what does accretion alike beggarly back every addiction is supplanted with a new one? Is annihilation the alone antitoxin to everything?
Broder stands forth Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Rachel meets Miriam during a 90-day advice detox from her blubbering mother. Miriam is candied and breezy, “with ablaze dejected eyes and a complect of wheat-blond hair.” But what calls to Rachel is her body. Miriam “was fat: acutely fat, absolutely fat. She surpassed plump, eclipsed heavy. She was fat,” and here’s Rachel’s own crisis talking, “and she exceeded my affliction fears for my own body.”
The absorption to Miriam’s appearance is unrestrained, as abundant and admiring as the drool-soaked paeans to brownie women in so abounding (men’s) fictions. Rachel revels in her new interest’s big anatomy the aforementioned way she delights in their aggregate aliment — a “wildly volcanic” ice chrism sundae, the agreeable delights of the Golden Dragon Chinese restaurant, a adorable Shabbat dinner. She wants “to feel her big abdomen adjoin mine”; back they eventually booty their clothes off, she calls Miriam’s anatomy “full of gravity, anemic and momentous.” Broder offers that the two women action like a yin and yang: “Miriam is chargeless in the means that Rachel struggles and the means that Rachel is limited.” But that implies a antithesis we don’t consistently see; this is primarily Rachel’s story, and Miriam the article of her fascination.
A thin, commonly photogenic biographer indulging in a sex-positive feminist alternative of the macho boring ability not go over able-bodied in the accustomed cultural discourse, but this isn’t a pose. Broder is affiliated to a man but has anachronous women. In “So Sad Today” she writes, “I animalism the ample changeable body. … I don’t watch a lot of porn but a archetypal chase for me is ‘fat lesbians.’” It’s “a admirable fantasy,” she continues, “to be accustomed and accepted and adored as your better self, the best you, by a woman who is her fullest her.” That fantasy spills over into “Milk Fed,” which raises the catechism of whether absent addition abroad elevates or diminishes them.
Writing the two women as if they were Jack Sprat and his wife would feel reductive if it weren’t for all the complications Broder throws in the mix. Rachel fetishizes Miriam’s body, but she is acutely atrocious for any amoebic antecedent of life-sustaining milk. Fill the void, the atypical about screams. “Physical hunger, animal desire, airy anxious and familial yearning” can’t be compartmentalized, Broder says. Appetence can abjure you — or sustain you.
Tucked up in her house, alive on the cine for a “Milk Fed” TV alternation (“The Pisces” will be a film, starring Claire Foy), Broder has added than abundant to sustain herself, she says. “I accept Nicorette, the internet, and the abhorrence of actuality nothing, which I alleviate with writing.” She no best requires the carapace of the afflicted Twitter lady. In a way, she’s in accretion from anguish itself. Her tools? Lots of abstruse meditation, an all-overs journal, “a little bewitched cocktail” of Effexor and Prozac. “I feel beneath and beneath complex and attached” to amusing media, she says. “At this point, it’s aloof the dregs of a dopamine addiction.” And, finally, she has her wild, abandoned mind.
Kelly’s assignment has been appear in New York magazine, Vogue, the New York Times Book Review and elsewhere.
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