It is with profound shamefacedness that I admit to picking up Kate Margam's MILCH COW for the most embarrassingly superficial of reasons. (1) It was short. (2) Margam is British and I, in true lemming-like fashion, suffer from that ubiquitous malady, Anglophilia. (3) The front cover featured a statue of the Virgin Mary holding her left breast against a hot pink background while the back cover blurb read as such: A night in the '80s. A young city dealer, intoxicated by money and cocaine, leaves a nightclub… Actually, the blurb was comprised of at least five or six additional sentences but I never got past this first one because, between those few words and the cover, I was already wooed by the retro and ironic possibilities.
So there it is. Charlatan that I am, I entered into this book hoping for some tongue-in-cheeky romp through the London's sinfully excessive "Me Generation." Well, you can only mockingly laugh at my surprise when, upon turning to page one, I was hit with the realization that I was not about to be treated to Britain's answer to Bret Easton Ellis. MILCH COW was rife with commentary; Margam had an agenda.
Initially set against the backdrop of Britain's tumultuous mining strike in the mid-'80s, MILCH COW chronicles the 15-year emotional odyssey of a family coming to grips with the devastating loss of a loved one while quagmired in "detached, four-bedroom complacency." Once beautiful (now old and saggy), Sylvia is the picture of suburban ennui --- from the pride/jealousy admixture she feels toward her free-spirited, passionate, artistic daughter Samantha right down to her sexless marriage to the boringly respectable, intimacy-challenged Alun. The only thing Sylvia has that is truly "hers" is the lump she finds in her left breast. She clings to the lump like a child, cradling it in her right hand, coaxing it back to the surface when it recedes.
The discovery of the lump starts Sylvia down the path of self reevaluation, but it's not until the sudden death of her son, Marcus, that she --- indeed the whole family --- is thrust from her complacency. Over the course of the next 15 years, as the miners' strike gives way to the equally charged political climate of the Labour Party's rise to power in the late '90s, the characters inexorably change. Sylvia undergoes some sort of spiritual epiphany, evidenced not so much by her saying anything as tangible as "I have undergone some sort of spiritual epiphany," but by her twice saying the rosary and thrice experiencing visitations from The Virgin. She also becomes involved in a torrid affair with Jeremy, her next-door neighbor and longtime family friend. Jeremy, a generally deficient human being more concerned with looking like an upstanding citizen than actually being one, eventually comes to fall in love with Sylvia and, on his death bed (he unexpectedly dies of a heart attack, an event that precipitates yet another reevaluation for Sylvia and paves the way for her return to the patiently waiting Alun) finally comes to recognize and regret his generally deficient humanity.
Midway through this 15 year grieving process, Sylvia and Alun learn that Marcus, the child with whom Sylvia felt a special connection (Samantha always kept herself at arm's length), was not the quiet, conservative stockbroker they thought he was, but rather an openly gay, socialist, drug-addicted stockbroker likely suffering from AIDS. Shocked for but a moment, Sylvia --- without much explana