Mortality is the undercurrent in Dantiel W. Moniz’s electrifying debut story collection, Milk Blood Heat, but where there’s death there is the whir of life, too. A lot of collections consist of some duds, yet every single page in this book is a shimmering seashell that contains the sound of multiple oceans. Reading one of Moniz’s stories is like holding your breath underwater while letting the salt sting your fresh wounds. It’s exhilarating and shocking and even healing. The power in these stories rests in their veracity, vitality and vulnerability.
Although her stories are as emotionally gutting as the wake of a hurricane, Dantiel W. Moniz deserves more than the easy weather metaphors that come to mind. A resident of northern Florida, Moniz is an achingly insightful and soulful writer who deserves more than that. Her blistering range is evident in the 11 stories of her stunning debut collection, Milk Blood Heat, all of which are set in the Sunshine State ... Moniz possesses a calm ability to capture unspoken yet palpable awkwardness and disconnect ... Throughout the book, it’s these sustained beats, reverberating with gravity, that give the book texture and depth ... Actions mean more than words, but as a writer, Moniz knows that words are the connective tissue that give us the faith we need to carry on. How she illuminates that reasoning through direct and unwavering language is downright magical ... Words punctuate the wrath and mystery of a natural and spiritual world in this tremendous and sensual collection ... With worlds collapsed into single words and answers found in emptiness, Moniz empowers readers to find potential in lack. There’s always trouble brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, but Florida is a rich landscape for characters who dare to endure despite the ravages of body and mind in Milk Blood Heat.
Often the most powerful elements of fiction are the emotional truths mined from the most difficult experiences ... Milk Blood Heat is thoroughly tethered to this kind of emotional truth. Throughout 11 short stories—all set in Florida, all focusing on transformative experiences in the lives of women—Moniz weaves tales that are as profound as they are unnerving, as moving as they are surprising ... Each of the stories in this collection is anchored by Moniz’s gorgeous, precise prose ... Though they share certain geographic and thematic connections, the tales are quite diverse in their perspectives and casts. What unites them, and what keeps us turning the pages through scenes of tragedy and self-discovery, rebellion and reconciliation, trauma and agency, is the singular voice guiding each character. In nearly every paragraph, Moniz unfurls some new observation that nestles down in your brain and sits, steeping like tea leaves, until each story has formed a cohesive, powerful emotional experience. It’s a magical sensation that reveals astonishing talent ... a slim but mighty volume of short fiction, one that announces Moniz as a transfixing voice capable of limning often staggering emotional truths.
... these stories are fire ... Anyone who has spent a cold and dreary night camping knows a successful cooking fire is not a matter of crackling sticks and bursting flames, but of meticulously layered coals, fuel accumulated over hours of attentive labor. There are no shortcuts, no quick and fast fixes, it is all the result of time and hard work. With these stories, Moniz has built eleven perfect cooking fires .. the stories read with the ease of an author well into an established career. Moniz expertly dodges the more common pitfalls of early short story writers such as cheap plot tricks or lyrical gymnastics; no overreaching for epiphanic clarity. Without doubt, the prose is stunning, the characterization remarkable, the setting memorable, but never in a way that tries too hard to show off or draw attention to itself ... Moniz’s narrative moves beyond predictable conclusions, giving the story a much more expansive and powerful arc ... This debut collection has staying power, will prove a joy for anyone who loves short stories, and deserves close study. I can’t wait to bring these stories into the classroom. Milk Blood Heat should be one of the collections we’re discussing, teaching, and rereading for years to come.
...in Moniz’s collection, the ordinary experience of being female is laced with a kind of enchantment ... Entire stories seem bathed in a warm radiance ... Many of these stories draw their force from a well-honed righteousness that turns, at times, into a double-edged sword ... It’s women and girls who really hold sway in this book, their cares and secrets and self-delusions.
Dantiel Moniz’s sparkling debut story collection, Milk Blood Heat, is vibrant and alive, full of energy and desire and with a sharp focus on the body ... Moniz creates an honest, unflinching look at her characters’ innermost thoughts and desires ... Moniz’s ebbing and flowing prose makes the sentences feel as alive as the stories themselves. It is fitting that the title of the collection is a series of words, rather than an image or a phrase. Moniz uses language to describe the often indescribable: the way that bodies feel, the way that thoughts rise and fall ... while each story in Milk Blood Heat stands beautifully on its own, the themes and tropes echoed throughout allow this collection to become a whole greater than its parts ... In this collection, we get to see the whole, the mind and body fitting together, in striking stories brimming with life.
[A] stunning debut ... As its title suggests, this book’s 11 stories are about human need, about intimacy physical and otherwise, and about what happens when it fails ... Moniz writes powerfully about adolescent girls as they navigate that perilous age ... Several of the strongest stories in Milk Blood Heat are about mothers and daughters.
Again and again, characters in these tales, mainly young women and girls, are confronted with questions about where they end and the rest of the world begins; who or what to let in or push away. The answers are never simple ... Rather than simplistically celebrating either independence or connection, these stories show how each person must work out the right balance. And then, of course, especially for women of color, self-definition is always only partially a personal choice. Some part of how you are viewed — and get to view yourself — is already determined. Throughout, Moniz’s prose is gorgeous and richly descriptive, as well as funny and acerbic in places. She uses these qualities to, among other things, evoke Jacksonville, Florida, and surroundings, where heat and water are ever present. The lushness and intensity of the environment infuse the stories and present another kind of unstable boundary, that between land and water. It’s one that many of the characters know will only grow more unstable over time. For all their sensory and visceral intensity, though, the stories never go for melodrama. They take their time and swerve in unexpected directions. Taken together, they are also coolly analytical. It’s a remarkable, deeply effective combination.
To describe Milk Blood Heat, a new collection of stories by Dantiel W. Moniz, as elemental is to summon the chemical definition of the term, to invite the reader to imagine an elixir that acts on the spirit as well as the body ... In these challenging stories by Moniz, each character is altered by basics — death, birth, desire. Enthralling in simplicity and grounding in the details of her reality, Milk Blood Heat is kin to We the Animals by Justin Torres. Like Torres, Moniz’s settings are based in concrete detail and her stories open questions about human nature. Set in a steamy Florida, each of the eleven stories offers the reader a full immersion into one world after another. Each storyline is a surprise. You may need to sit back with eyes closed after each narrative to recover before diving in again. The characters’ journeys of transformation are always unexpected ... Moniz has created an alchemy that converts base literary elements into a transformative elixir of the reading experience.
Moniz has won multiple awards for her individual stories, and this excellent debut collection shows why. Focusing on marginalized communities and limning relationships, longing, and our uneasy passage through a world that often confounds us, she nails aching moments of naked human emotion in direct if luscious language ... What gives the collection coherence is Moniz’s distinctive vision ... Highly recommended; catch this writer early in her game.
This debut collection from award-winning Moniz sets its fascinating and difficult stories in Florida. These stories are fascinating because their connective moments are both unpredictable and earned ... Moniz reinforces that pain is pain is pain. Sometimes it is transformative; sometimes it only hurts. This story collection is for readers who want to be both challenged and compelled.
This powerful debut collection is a wonderland of deep female characters navigating their lives against the ever changeable backdrop of Florida ... Each story vibrates with a thrumming undercurrent of primal power, found in both nature and in the most shadowy parts of ourselves ... Dark and lushly layered, these stories will bewitch you.
Some stories end abruptly, but Moniz knows her characters well and writes with confidence throughout, letting narratives meander without losing sight of their destinations. Each of these humanity-studying journeys through the Sunshine State easily stands on its own.