MILK FED by Melissa Broder (Scribner, 304 pp. $26)
Melissa Broder's delectable new "Milk Fed," like "The Pisces," her 2011 debut about a merman, contains deliciously steamy sex scenes. In "Milk Fed," those scenes get tough competition from lusciously over-the-top food scenes, involving 24-year-old protagonist Rachel devouring everything from convenience-store nachos to a frozen-yogurt concoction called Peppermint Plotz.
Rachel, who works at a Hollywood talent agency, wasn't always this way. Her mother, obsessed with thinness, was oblivious to that obsession's effects on her daughter. As a teenager, when Rachel confesses that she thinks she has an eating disorder, her mother responds: "Anorexics are much skinnier than you."
Now Rachel's therapist wants her to try a 90-day fast. As Rachel lets her mother's messages go unanswered, she craves forbidden food, the kind with salt and fat and sugar. On a visit to her favorite frozen-yogurt shop, Yo!Good, run by a family of Orthodox Jews, she meets Miriam. "Above all, she was fat: undeniably fat, irrefutably fat. She wasn't thick, curvy, or chubby. She surpassed plump, eclipsed heavy. She was fat, and she exceeded my worst fears for my own body."
Rachel finds Miriam's overweight body strange and alien. Dr. Mahjoub invites Rachel to fashion something from "Theraputticals" clay, and Rachel creates a multicolored female figure, more Venus of Willendorf than Venus de Milo. She reconsiders fleshiness, and finds herself starving. She eats chocolate mousse cake and burritos and gummy fish and pad thai. She hangs out more with Miriam, who invites her to see "Charade" and dine at a slightly seedy kosher Chinese restaurant called the Golden Dragon. Miriam's unabashed enjoyment of her tropical drink and pu pu platter unlock something deep in Rachel's soul. She has the hots for something truly forbidden: a large woman.
Broder's second novel combines her singular style with adventures of the calorie- and climax-filled kind, sumptuous fillings surrounded by perfectly baked plot.