Milk by Darcey Steinke (Bloomsbury, 2007, 144pp.)
Set during the wintertime in New York City, Milk is a short novel that examines the lives and longings of three characters: Mary, a new mother with a disinterested husband; Walter, a gay Episcopal priest trying to fill the void that his dead lover left behind; and John, a widower-turned-monk who has recently cast off the cowl to return to secular life. Although the two men never meet, their relationships with Mary tie their lives together (she is a long-time friend to Walter, and becomes John’s lover).
The portraits that Steinke paints of these characters should be considered works in progress rather than finished masterpieces. She gives us a small window of time to look into their lives allowing us to glimpse Mary’s mental illness, Walter’s frustrating Match.com dates, and John’s thoughts on life outside the monastery. Steinke also gives special attention to her character’s sex lives, indulging in frequent, graphic depictions of sexuality that may be off-putting to some readers. This, and the somewhat ambiguous ending, makes the novel recommendable only to readers who are willing to forgo their comfort zones and try something different.
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