What role does a mother play in raising thoughtful, generous children? In her literary debut, internationally award-winning writer Courtney Zoffness considers what we inherit from generations past—biologically, culturally, spiritually—and what we pass on to our children. Spilt Milk is an intimate, bracing, and beautiful exploration of vulnerability and culpability. Zoffness relives her childhood anxiety disorder as she witnesses it manifest in her firstborn; endures brazen sexual advances by a student in her class; grapples with the implications of her young son’s cop obsession; and challenges her Jewish faith. Where is the line between privacy and secrecy? How do the stories we tell inform who we become? These powerful, dynamic essays herald a vital new voice.
Zoffness, director of the creative writing program at Drew University, debuts with a keenly perceptive collection of essays that considers, among other topics, family dynamics, motherhood, and her "inconsistent" relationship to Judaism. In "The Only Thing We Have to Fear," Zoffness worries she's passing along her childhood anxieties to her first-born. "Ultra Sound" recounts her attempts to become closer to her mother, who was once in a band that opened for the Doors, yet never played any of her recordings for her children. "How to read such caginess?" Zoffness asks. In "Holy Body," she attends a ritual cleansing at a mikvah center while visiting a childhood friend from Jewish summer camp. Zoffness connects her personal experiences to larger cultural moments, reflecting, for instance, on her four-year-old son's obsession with becoming a police officer amid the Black Lives Matter protests: "My son still misunderstands what officers say when taking people into custody. You're unarrested, the LEGO officer in his left hand says to a LEGO wrongdoer in his right." Zoffness delivers masterful essays in a fresh, vulnerable voice readers will want to hear more of.