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Milkshake Paperback – December 10, 2011
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About the Author
Joanna Weiss is an op-ed columnist for the Boston Globe. Her columns appear, via the New York Times wire, in newspapers across the country. This is her first novel.
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While I was stuck in the hospital at the beginning of 2013, I blew through a bunch of Kindle shorts I'd stacked up over the year or so previously. Not remembering it, I clicked on Milkshake, thinking it was one of said shorts. Nope, it turned out to be a full-length novel. Since I was already deep into a feature-length novel, I put it aside for a while and ended up not getting back to it until very recently. The portion of it I read whilst still prone had me wondering. Self-published political satire? That's a recipe for disaster, right there. And while I'm going to stop short of calling Milkshake unpredictable, but the way it ends up getting where it goes is not exactly the way I expected it to go.
Plot: new mother Lauren Bruce suffers a wardrobe malfunction while breastfeeding her son, unintentionally exposing some girly bits to a room full of horny high-schoolers with camera phones. Video of the incident goes viral, but that doesn't have quite the effect Lauren fears it will; Maisy Street, campaign manager for Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Candace Calloway, convinces Candace that public breastfeeding is the now issue, and Lauren Bruce is a perfect girl-next-door to boost Calloway's flagging campaign. Maisy, Lauren, and breastfeeding activists who call themselves the BOOBs (as I'm writing this review, I'm wondering how much of it I'm going to need to censor before it's actually publishable on Amazon...) take on the media, and Candace's campaign finds some new life. Reacting to the new angle, Calloway's opponent enlists fellow activist group Mothers on Modesty (the MOMs), and the two campaigns clash through rallies, media, stumping, and all the rest of the political machine.
It's a terrifying concept, mostly because any author who tackles this sort of material is likely to have an agenda. I assume that's the case with Joanna Weiss--but the fact that I have finished this book and don't quite know the answer is testimony to Weiss' not letting her agenda get in the way of a good story. She focuses more on character than on plot, which was a huge surprise, and a welcome one. Because of this, she had a lot of wiggle room when it came to putting her characters into situations that novelists who were wearing their idealism on their sleeves would never have been able to get away with (though telling you about any of them would be spoilers). She has a lot of fun with these characters, and it's infectious; the reader will, too.
That does have its drawbacks, though. Despite Lauren Bruce being the agent of change here--a role that she consistently plays throughout the novel--there are times when she seems like a minor character rather than the central figure. This may have been intentional on Weiss' part; if so, a few structure changes would have probably been worth implementing; Lauren's friend Mia would have been a good place to begin, or we could have started out with Maisy, who often seems like the book's real main character, coming across footage of the incident while trolling Youtube. That's a minor quibble, though the rest of the quibbles I have with the book, all of which would be spoilers if I talked about them, build on it. We're given the expectation of Lauren being the book's main character in the first chapter, and because of that, we expect things from her that we end up getting from other characters. Not that you can't overlook that while reading the novel--I did, for the most part--but it's nagged at me in the week or so since I finished this, and ultimately, I knocked off half a star from my rating for what is, ultimately, a structural defect. With that said, however, I'm still recommending this one for people who have the same basic relationship with politics (I can't stand the stuff) and feminism (it's a Good Thing(TM), but I know a lot of folks who should probably take themselves a touch less seriously) that I do. It's less a laugh-out-loud satire than an evil-chuckle satire, but those can be just as funny--and are often just as rewarding. ***
This book doesn't let up! That's a good thing. There are no stones left unturned. All aspects of womanhood are addressed, none being perfect, none being wrong. I don't know how Joanna Weiss did it. Maybe by calling this "Chick Lit?" Fem-lit works better for me. This addresses deep issues women face from the time they consider themselves adult. The main issues are those of guilt, shame, and lack of self confidence. As a new mom you are bathed in those issues and may not even know it. But our main character, Lauren, in Milkshake represents those insecurities.
Don't get me wrong, this is far from a downer. As Lauren battles the new mom issues, her life is taken over by others who are stronger and manipulative. But Lauren shows she does have her own mind and sees things differently than those who would use her.
Ugh! This still sounds like a debbie-downer. It is funny! It hits on all the points of view, bottle versus breast, breast ownership, art, politics, very political, Earth-mothers versus career-ladder-climbers. Ok, still not sounding as enjoyable as the book actually was.
Actually, that is what I am trying to say: this book takes deep subjects and lightens them to help us to see the wisdom in our choices is far from the wisdom of others, but the choices are equally valid.
This book has very little romance, YAY! Yet women are portrayed with needs and desires and they face the changing world and political climate, while maintaining her own goals... HOW did you write this, Ms. Weiss? Amazing!
I am Earth-mom. Natural everything. SAHM. Now at 62, I see one important thing I left out: Care of my future self. Even this issue is brought up in the book. As a SAHM you are not putting anything away for yourself. Keep that in mind, young mothers. I'm on disability, not with the father of my children, nor my adult children. The money I have to survive on is so minimal. I wish I would have had someone to address that with me while I was cleaning up spit-up, changing diapers and chasing children: What will there be for me to fall back on? Society had me convinced that I was doing my best for my children. That I was saving money for my little family and offering some sort of stability. That sort of means nothing as I now choose whether I need meds more than more beans and rice. Young moms look out for your future selves as much if not more than you do that little one in your arms. Just my word to the wise. Nothing else would I have changed of my early motherhood. I loved, still love my offspring (they do get upset when I use the word child/children), I love that we had a great chance to bond. But now I see there were other ways of mothering and all ways have their good points and bad points. Being a womyn means more compromise than MAN has even had to consider. Much of the above is brought out in Milkshake. There are a lot of issues we still need to work out to have an equal status between men and fem. But while I SAHMed, my ex-husband collects quite the handsome retirement while having given little to actual care of the beings he wanted and created with me, meanwhile it was my all-consuming role. Looking at it from this end of life, Love isn't enough to live on.
I would love to see what others have to say about the book and the essentials of being XX chromosomes.
Oh, and a side-note: I read this using my text-to-speech on. That means words like breastfeeding became brEEstfeeding and breastfed became brEEst(f)ed. So not only did I have many LOL moments from the author's point of view, I enjoyed the robot-talk, too!
Mia lost so much believability- okay, let's see. Militant lactivist....who gave her kid jarred baby food at five months old? No way. Breast or formula exclusively for six months, everyone knows that. Breatsfeeding moms tend to be more particular about that than anyone, especially those who say they're breastfeeding in part to 'avoid putting chemicals in baby's body'. A woman who calls formula poison, but will feed her child *store-bought* baby food? Again, no way. The women who refuse to give their babies formula because of the chemicals and preservatives, even when/if they give their babies mush, make their own mush at home. The store-bought food is full of preservatives and artificial colors. I'm not arguing that one shouldn't give it to babies, but I know that women who don't give their babies formula for those reasons won't give them jarred food for the same reasons. And Lyle is CIRCUMCISED? Fine, have a circumcised baby in the story, but don't give him to the character who supposedly spends her every free second researching every parenting decision. Lactivists are almost invariably also intactivists.
Again, I won't argue whether all of these are valid parenting choices. Whether or not they are is less relevant than the fact that the character Mia was trying to be would never think they are. She was so extreme on the breastfeeding issue that these things stood out and made her hard to believe.
A good story, good writing. I'd've given it a four except for Mia's unbelievability. A little more research in the mommy forums would've paid off here.