Author and poet Melissa Broder is known for her riotously funny prose, her explicitly erotic sex scenes, and her psychological insights into the nature of obsessive female desire. In her latest novel, Milk Fed, out February 2 from Scribner, she continues to explore these themes through the lens of a character named Rachel. Rachel has an obsessive eating disorder and a smothering relationship with her mother. Her world changes when she meets Miriam, a zaftig Orthodox Jewish woman who seems to eat whatever she pleases. As their relationship develops, Rachel discovers the connection between sex, food, and spirituality. Broder spoke with PW about Milk Fed and how she keeps her writing so raw.
What made you want to write a novel about the connection between spirituality, sex, and food?
I guess we write our obsessions: sex, food, and God. I can't get away. As we eat, so we worship. As we eat, so we feel about ourselves. As we eat, so we permit ourselves our other desires. It's not just about the food. It is a spiritual problem, and it is a love problem. It's never about the cookie. Eating disorders are a very convenient place to channel existential anxiety.
They are also usually very taboo to explore, even in fiction. Whether it's in your personal essay collection So Sad Today, your other novel The Pisces, or Milk Fed, you are relentlessly candid and explicit in your prose. Do you ever combat inner censors?
When I write, I just have to give myself over to the process completely. I already have enough mothers living inside me. I already have enough censors living inside me. So I really can't obey any of them. They all have to go. And I have to trick myself into doing that. So that's why I often dictate in the car. I don't write at a desk. I try to de-perfect the process as much as possible. Milk Fed was dictated, three paragraphs a day. But in the editing process, you do have to of course consider your reader much more. I probably worked harder and spent more time and labor on this book during editing than anything I've ever done.
This is a very Jewish book. Why do you think that aspect of your identity came through now in particular?
I’ve started to kind of think about aging as...the only way I describe it is I feel like I'm on a boat and I'm moving further and further away from the shore. But I didn't even realize I was on a boat. And I didn't realize that that was the shore. One of the things that I missed about that perceived shore was my Jewish identity. I found that every time now, when I go to a Jewish deli, it feels like home. And I found that when I was watching Fiddler on the Roof, I was now super into it. I live in Los Angeles. I mean, it's kind of like a mini-shtetl. There's no shortage of Jews here. So I was like, “What is it? What is it that I feel that yearning for?” So I think for all those reasons, I revisited Jewish identity in this book.
Your sex scenes are so erotic, funny, and psychologically complex. How do you approach writing sex?
I've always had a filthy mind and I've always had a very active imagination—even from when I was young, hiding Fear of Flying and Judy Blume books under my bed. Reading my mom's books for any possible fucking that could be happening. Or in terms of the Jews, getting a hold of Portnoy's Complaint. And being like, “Oh, yes.” When I was a kid, I didn't discover a stash of porn—I found sex in books. I guess some people find it challenging to write sex. I find it challenging to not write sex. After I finished editing this book, I was like, “Ugh, if I never have to type the word ‘clit’ again, it'll be too soon.” And yet I'm back in the game. It's just where I gravitate.