The Middlesteins: A Novel Info

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Reviews for The Middlesteins: A Novel:

5

Jun 07, 2012

oh, jami attenberg... i ♥ the way you write.

this book is like richard scarry's busytown. you and the om narr are just looking down at a scene unfolding, and you are watching everyone be very very busy. edie is busy eating herself to death, her estranged husband richard is busy trying to re-enter the dating pool in his sixties, their children are busy resenting their father for leaving their mother in her illness, their grandchildren are busy preparing for their b'nai mitzvah, rachelle the oh, jami attenberg... i ♥ the way you write.

this book is like richard scarry's busytown. you and the om narr are just looking down at a scene unfolding, and you are watching everyone be very very busy. edie is busy eating herself to death, her estranged husband richard is busy trying to re-enter the dating pool in his sixties, their children are busy resenting their father for leaving their mother in her illness, their grandchildren are busy preparing for their b'nai mitzvah, rachelle the perfect daughter-in-law is busy trying to control everyone... it is a busytown indeed. and of course you focus on lowly worm, because he is the best, and that cat... but then you start to notice all the other things happening on the periphery. what is that hippo up to?? who is that badger? and this book, told in a multitude of voices, will eventually address all the players and give them an opportunity to comment on the situation, as they see it. (view spoiler)[ except for beverly, which was really too bad (hide spoiler)]

jenna blum has called this "the jewish corrections", and i can see that, but although franzen also blurbs this, i think this is less...turgid than the corrections, which i loved, by the way, but you know what i mean. and also - less poop in this one.

the middlesteins is definitely about family dysfunction, but my memory of the corrections is that it is bleak and hopeless and nobody wins.this is not a jolly rollicking book, but it is less relentlessly soul-killing than that other book.there are great scenes of tenderness and opportunities for hope in the bonds of family and love.

the story leaps through time and voice, where edie's chapters are titled after her weight at the time of the action, and the om narr is casually dropping facts about things that happen in the future, outside the scope of the book's parameters, which is something i always love in my books. the seeds of future events are planted throughout, but it doesn't stop you from wanting these characters to make different choices, because you root for them and you want everyone to be happy, but after you finish the story and have that melancholy tinge following you around for the rest of the day, you realize it was all perfectly told, and you wouldn't have it any other way.

my very favorite parts are in the dynamic between richard and his granddaughter emily, who is a stubborn, resentful little girl, just starting to assert her individuality the way all teen girls do.

-josh got in first, emily pausing with her hand on the door, starting a staring competition with her grandfather that she almost instantly comprehended - he could see her bite her lip - she was never going to win. don't you understand, he wanted to say, i invented the staring contest? don't you understand that,as far as you know, i invented everything?

and later in that same chapter:

-it was a silent car ride home; the children wisely kept their phones in their pockets, so it was just the sound of their breathing, the car engine, a light-rock station playing barely above mute. in their driveway they got out of the car before he had even turned off the engine and darted outside. why were these children always running away from him? didn't they know that he loved them with all his heart?

uuuuugh. just love it.

i apologize for reviewing a book four months before its release, but you gotta remember this one, and when it comes out, go get it. you can read her other three books while you wait. i have only read Instant Love: Fiction so far, but based on my love for both of the ones i have read, i will definitely be going after those other two...

come to my blog!
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2

Oct 18, 2012

This novel left me feeling empty and like it was a waste of time. I very rarely feel this when reading novels, even ones I don't like. (In fact sometimes reading a bad novel is a joy in itself--it can be kind of sadistically fun to make fun of in your head, to read out bad dialogue to people, etc.) I am still trying to wrap my head around why I dislike it so much because she can write. There were a few observations about her character's actions and just being a human in general that made smile This novel left me feeling empty and like it was a waste of time. I very rarely feel this when reading novels, even ones I don't like. (In fact sometimes reading a bad novel is a joy in itself--it can be kind of sadistically fun to make fun of in your head, to read out bad dialogue to people, etc.) I am still trying to wrap my head around why I dislike it so much because she can write. There were a few observations about her character's actions and just being a human in general that made smile and that I saw myself in. I really enjoyed the part when Emily, the daughter, sadly learns that life has some awful, terrifying parts to it and she recognizes that she can't "unlearn" this---she can't feel innocent and carefree again. She is so young but she is so old and heavy with the burden life already is. There were a few other great character studies like this I wish she would expand on.

Other than that....meh. At first I thought, "I guess I don't like it because it's a depressing book with annoying characters and it didn't give me a warm fuzzy feeling so I'm translating that to 'I hated it.'"I see people do that all on the time on goodreads and while it makes sense and we all do it, it's a shallow view of what novels and books are there for. That kind of view limits us as learners. So I had to check myself to make sure I wasn't doing that. Maybe that's it a little. But it's more than that. Because I read this immediately after reading The Casual Vacancy, which I think anyone would agree is also extremely depressing, maybe even more so than this book. And that book somehow did not leave me feeling this way. The characters were fleshed out and complex. They were awful and wonderful and relatable and just like all of us in their own ways.

I did not like how she gave us snapshots of characters and just when we would be going deep into one person's motivations, actions, etc....poof! She would stop and visit another character (also briefly) and then leave them. I don't mind alternating viewpoints but some of the characters we heard from literally once (Rachelle, and I think Emily) and never from their perspective again. I guess that was to make us see the family as a whole and not focus on any one character but it just felt incomplete. It felt like she didn't really know where to go with the story and her characters, like she had one great insight for each character then was unsure what to do with them further. This seems to be in style for the last 5 years or so (A Visit from the Goon Squad, Olive Kitteridge, etc) and it may also be that I just don't like this style that much. I think it can be done well but sometimes I wonder if it's scarier for authors to flesh out the story in a fuller way...? For example, something she did a few times: Why would the story be solidly in the present and then she would randomly blurt out (I'm paraphrasing): "Ten years later, Emily and her father still hadn't spoke since this day." These weird future glimpses showed she almost recognized it needed some cohesiveness or....something else but they just were odd and out of place, because the distant future was never really mentioned again.

As I said, this style of intersecting “stories” can work but here I was just left wanting more. The book is not incredibly short but it seemed short and rushed to me. It felt like meandering observations that were never fully explored. The characters were being used as symbols, to prove the author’s point about excess, suburban, dysfunctional American families, and looking for and losing the “American Dream.” What I suppose would be the central plot to the story (Edie’s weight) felt extremely weak as the bond for it all. I kept thinking these side stories would lead to a more cohesive plot but they didn’t. I also didn’t find the characters really very believable.

On a final note and somewhat of a rant…. I am very tired of the whole middle class, middle age, white male, emotionally stunted, schmuck character. I somehow have been encountering them often lately. I do understand (a LITTLE) why Richard wanted to leave Edie. Not saying it was right. But she needed to take care of herself and care about being a wife and being healthy. But he and (similar male characters of Franzen, Coetzee, Updike, Russo and Jonathan Tropper and most recently Maggie Shipstead) are getting on my last nerve. They are always bumbling through life, suddenly disgusted by their middle age, usually saintly wives (who pick up their slack) and unsure why they are married. They never understand their kids, their own emotions; they are helpless around the house and community. They don’t understand their role in their families or society (which has been tailored to fit them in their cluelessness---just show up). They just exist uselessly with sex, youthful dreams, and money as their motivators. I’m not saying these men don’t exist in real life and they don’t need to be written about. And I’m not even saying these writers don’t do it well. I’m just tired of hearing about them all bemoaning how hot young girls are and being confused by how to talk to their daughter and other ridiculous problems they have. Grow up. I need a break from them. I think the literate middle age men of America should be offended this is how they seem to be most often portrayed in literature. At least in what I’ve read. I need a book with a good, helpful, head-on-his-shoulders, intelligent middle age man in it to restore my faith. Recommendations please!

Wow. This got long. ...more
5

Jun 13, 2012

I can't even begin to list all the interviews and articles and accolades Jami is getting for this book, which is so so so so great. I am sort of friends with her, by which I mean we're friends on Facebook and have chatted at publishing events, and she's always been really nice. But we know each other only glancingly, so while I was predisposed to enjoy this book, you can still take it at face value when I tell you that it was holy motherfucking incredibly good.

It even made me cry at one point I can't even begin to list all the interviews and articles and accolades Jami is getting for this book, which is so so so so great. I am sort of friends with her, by which I mean we're friends on Facebook and have chatted at publishing events, and she's always been really nice. But we know each other only glancingly, so while I was predisposed to enjoy this book, you can still take it at face value when I tell you that it was holy motherfucking incredibly good.

It even made me cry at one point (on the subway of course, during morning rush hour when it was so packed I couldn't even raise my hand to wipe my eyes), and it wasn't even during a sad part, it was this scene of triumphant joy, one of those small triumphs that in retrospect will seem trivial but at the time feels like the most important thing in the goddamn world.

The reason it was possible for me to have an emotional reaction to a scenes like this—in fact, it was impossible for me not to—is because Jami totally fucking nails it, she gets these characters so well crafted and so vivid that they actually exist for you, in your brain, off the page. You know the things they're doing outside of the story because they're full people; you don't have to be told each detail that moves the story along, and when there's a jump in time, it's totally natural to fill in what happened in the meantime.

It reminds me of A Visit From the Goon Squad, kind of, except more intimate, less sweeping. There are back-and-forth temporal jumps, but by five years, or ten, instead of Jennifer Egan's fifty. And The Midds follows just one family, three generations, sometimes relating the same incident from Grandma's point of view that we already saw through Aunt's eyes, which serves to tighten the intimacy we feel with these characters, this family, these very very real people. She also does the narrative in slightly different ways chapter by chapter, also like Goon Squad except not as vastly different, and but where in Goon Squad the pivotal chapter was that gimmicky PowerPoint thing, here it's told in third-person-plural. It's the same chapter that made me cry, in many ways the climax of the plot, and it concerns a b'nai mitzvah, this big-deal event where the whole fucked-up family and their whole wide social circle is all together in one place, and it's narrated, like i said, in plural, from the point of view of several couples, the older generation, the lifelong friends of Grandma & Grandpa, and it just opens the story out and out and out, the "we" getting all sentimental about the twin teenagers, full of gossip about the teens' parents, aching with knowing too much about their friends and their friends' children and grandchildren, able to be catty and sappy and self-righteous and self-doubting, with hurting feet and too much wine and so many years of friendship, simultaneously taking the long view and the very very narrow one... I don't know, I guess this won't make so much sense to people who haven't read the book, but believe me, it's an amazing effect.

Let me try to be a little more general. The Midds is like Skippy Dies but much narrower, it's like The Believers but much more unique, it's like On Beauty except not awful. The downfall of those last two books was that, in the end, none of the characters were actually likable, whereas in The Midds they really all are, even the adulterer, even the OCD mom, even the snotty teen, even Edie Middlestein, the crazy matriarch who is doggedly trying to eat herself to death.

This is a tight, standard, modernist story of a family, their ins and outs, their foibles and triumphs, a selection of anecdotes and incidents that, stacked together, make up lives. It's straightforward, riddled with sharp smart turns of phrase. It's solid, serious, full of hope and heartbreak and the complicated ways we fuck each other up in the name of love. It's also about food and its ability to comfort, to mask, to consume, to destroy. It's breathtaking lots of times, and when I realized what was going to happen at the end I got really mad and went two days refusing to read the last dozen pages, but then I did, because you have to, because Jami is right to do it, even though it's devastating. And it's devastating because the rest is so goddamn good.

Win all the awards, Jami. And then write another one, and another one, and another one. ...more
5

Jun 14, 2012

Okay, this is very un-PC but I'm just going to say it: Jews should read this book. Obviously non-Jews should also read this book, but I'm just saying, if you have ever been to a themed Bat Mitzvah with a choreographed dance routine, you will maybe get a slightly bigger kick out of this book.
3

Jul 03, 2012

A tasty little book; a smorgasbord of neurosis and bite sized pieces of suburban melancholy. Edie is fat and I started the book looking forward to living vicariously through her snacking and binging but I also couldn't wait to find out why Edie was so huge. I soon realised that this book is more about how Edie's fat upsets others. Which really, is apt, because that is how it seems to be in the real world. People get fat, everyone concern trolls them and tells them how bad it is (or they side eye A tasty little book; a smorgasbord of neurosis and bite sized pieces of suburban melancholy. Edie is fat and I started the book looking forward to living vicariously through her snacking and binging but I also couldn't wait to find out why Edie was so huge. I soon realised that this book is more about how Edie's fat upsets others. Which really, is apt, because that is how it seems to be in the real world. People get fat, everyone concern trolls them and tells them how bad it is (or they side eye them while they dare eat in public). The fat person keeps eating. Fat person eventually dies. So does everybody else.

Edie's obesity was dealt with tastefully. Attenburg didn't turn her into a sweaty, shining freak show. She was just a person who was fat - unfortunately, for me, I didn't find her a particularly interesting or engaging character. More of a maypole for the rest of the characters to do their neurotic (albeit half hearted) dance around. I should have related, I'm overweight, my mother has always been a comfort eater and probably rivals Edie in size and eating habits but I wasn't really interested. The book was safe, comfortable. A few nights ago I ran a warm bath and lit some candles and read a chapter or two and the book fit the mood perfectly.

What's not mentioned, and what I tire of - is that fat people can be fat and healthy. And happy and fat. And have their shit together and be fat. Just as skinny people can be sickly and lazy and very quickly dead from their own poor life choices. Fat people are demonised enough and although it's not really something Attenburg needs to deal with and this book doesn't really cast Edie as a spectacle, she's still a stereotype. Yawn.

So all in all, a well written story. The characters were believable and felt real, even if they did lack a little oomph. I wanted more to chew on. Some spice, some heat but ultimately it was incredibly easy to read and I think to craft something so seamless and smooth is commendable. I even quite liked this weird little thing she did where she jumps forward and wraps up an aspect of a character's future story in a brief paragraph before flowing straight back into the story at hand. Rated three point five stars with a confident recommendation to those who want a quick snack in between those heavier meals.

Food devoured whilst flipping pages: tofu & cucumber sushi, chocolate zucchini muffins, 3 apples, banana smoothie and endless cups of chai tea.
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4

May 16, 2012

Food, everything it can and does mean to a person, from comfort, love, relaxation, well being, to in the case of this novel, a woman who can't stop eating. The family in this novel is so very real and for all appearance not very likable. Yet beneath the core they are all so wanting, insecure and so very genuine, actually like most of us and probably our families. Narrated bu different characters, sometimes the reader learns back stories, oftentimes the future, but will it be real and the parts Food, everything it can and does mean to a person, from comfort, love, relaxation, well being, to in the case of this novel, a woman who can't stop eating. The family in this novel is so very real and for all appearance not very likable. Yet beneath the core they are all so wanting, insecure and so very genuine, actually like most of us and probably our families. Narrated bu different characters, sometimes the reader learns back stories, oftentimes the future, but will it be real and the parts about Edie always have the subtitle of her weight. You see, Edie cannot stop, or maybe does not want to stop eating. Different family members react in different ways, her husband of forty years leaves her at last, but even that does not stop her quest for more and more food. The husbands struggle to reenter the dating scene, her twin grandchildren and their quest to learn a dance to perform for their important Jewish coming of age ceremony, her daughter in law and daughter who feel that maybe it might be part of their responsibility to stop her eating. Well told, in a genuine voice, yet it takes looking beyond the top layers to get the true impact of this novel. ...more
5

Jun 10, 2012

She was thinking about food, specifically a value-size package of kettle-baked sea salt potato chips and a plastic tub of deli onion dip she had purchased from the Jewel that afternoon, which were sitting downstairs in her kitchen, waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.

This book reminds me of Seinfeld. No. There is no shrinkage, and nary a puffy shirt to be seen. BUT...like that beloved TV show, the book is crowded with characters who, taken She was thinking about food, specifically a value-size package of kettle-baked sea salt potato chips and a plastic tub of deli onion dip she had purchased from the Jewel that afternoon, which were sitting downstairs in her kitchen, waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.

This book reminds me of Seinfeld. No. There is no shrinkage, and nary a puffy shirt to be seen. BUT...like that beloved TV show, the book is crowded with characters who, taken individually, are not really very likable. However, throw them together, dream up a situation, and voila! THEY CLICK - and magic happens.

At well over 300 pounds, Edie is obsessed with food. It soothes, calms and comforts her in ways that her family cannot. But her reason for living is now killing her, and her family is at a loss for how to handle that.

Edie's daughter-in-law, Rachelle, is also obsessed with food, though she is consumed with eating healthy and NOT becoming Edie.

Rachelle's husband, Benny, is so stressed by his mother's problems and the changes in his wife, he's losing his hair at an alarming pace.

Then there is Edie's sullen daughter, Robin, who is finding it increasingly difficult to hide her resentment toward her father, Richard. He's decided he's finally had enough and has left his sick and miserable wife, determined to have a little fun before he dies.

Anyone who has been married for a long time knows the near-impossibility of getting someone to change their ways, so will the family get Edie to change her destructive habits before it's too late?

I realize I'm making this sound like a ponderous, downer of a book, and it's NOT. There's plenty of humor, and you're sure to recognize some of your own friends and family in this mix. And, just like in real life, you're not going to like EVERYONE you meet.

I wavered between four and five stars on this one, and went with five since I can't think of a thing I'd change. The author held my interest, kept me guessing, and surprised me with the ending.

It's said you can choose your friends but not your family. You can try walking away from those you've been stuck with, but few of us ever manage to sever those ties entirely. Attenberg provides a good look into the lives of a typical American family, warts and all, in sickness and in health, and for better or for worse. ...more
1

Dec 16, 2012

I found this story of a quirky family with an overeating matriarch pretty ho-hum. I only kept reading it because it was so short and I think I knocked it out in about 2 hours. But it's totally forgettable and I'll probably forget I ever read it in about a week.

Edie, the matriarch, eats obsessively and is obese and therefore has massive health problems. Various members of her family try to help her to exercise and cut back on food, with varying degrees of obsessiveness (but not success). Her I found this story of a quirky family with an overeating matriarch pretty ho-hum. I only kept reading it because it was so short and I think I knocked it out in about 2 hours. But it's totally forgettable and I'll probably forget I ever read it in about a week.

Edie, the matriarch, eats obsessively and is obese and therefore has massive health problems. Various members of her family try to help her to exercise and cut back on food, with varying degrees of obsessiveness (but not success). Her husband leaves her--not just because she is obese but because she has not been in love with him (nor he her) for like 2 decades--yet everybody totally gets on his case about it, which I did not get. If you are not in love for 2 decades, then yes--leave. I didn't get why his kids refused to speak to him, didn't invite him to their weddings, etc.

I just didn't "get" this quirky family or why I was supposed to be interested. It felt like being trapped inside a Wes Anderson movie, which is kind of my idea of hell. ...more
4

Jul 06, 2016

Im slightly surprised by how much I loved this. On the face of it its a fairly conventional dysfunctional family novel à la Jonathan Franzen, set among a Jewish family in Chicago. The main drama is provided by the mother, Edie, who seems to be slowly eating herself to death: she gorges herself on snacks and fast food several times a day even though shes facing a third major surgery for her diabetes. Her husband of 40 years, Richard, ditched her in her time of need, leaving children Robin and I’m slightly surprised by how much I loved this. On the face of it it’s a fairly conventional dysfunctional family novel à la Jonathan Franzen, set among a Jewish family in Chicago. The main drama is provided by the mother, Edie, who seems to be slowly eating herself to death: she gorges herself on snacks and fast food several times a day even though she’s facing a third major surgery for her diabetes. Her husband of 40 years, Richard, ditched her in her time of need, leaving children Robin and Benny (whose preteen twins Emily and Josh are preparing for their b’nai mitzvah) to pick up the slack.

Every character is fully rounded here (no pun intended) and the family interactions feel perfectly true to life. The occasional chapters flashing back to different points in Edie’s life, headed by her weight at the time, give the sense of a lifelong struggle with emotional eating: “Food was made of love … her heart and soul felt full when she felt full … food was a wonderful place to hide.”

This isn’t really an ‘issues’ book, yet it deals with obesity in a much more subtle and compassionate way than Lionel Shriver’s Big Brother. I especially loved two late chapters that shift the perspective: a first-person plural chapter from a group of old family friends who attend the b’nai mitzvah, and one from the viewpoint of a Chinese restaurateur. I’m so impressed (and I enjoyed Saint Mazie, too) that I’ll seek out the rest of Attenberg’s work. ...more
2

Mar 12, 2013

Oh, what's going on in The Middlesteins? No communication, that's for sure, because what better way to up dramatic tension than to not have your characters talk to one another? But when the entire book depends on that fact, and little to no self-awareness emerges as the characters delve into themselves and their options, it just makes for one frustrating read.

Edie Middlestein is eating herself to death. Her husband has left her, her kids make attempts to save her, and she remains indifferent to Oh, what's going on in The Middlesteins? No communication, that's for sure, because what better way to up dramatic tension than to not have your characters talk to one another? But when the entire book depends on that fact, and little to no self-awareness emerges as the characters delve into themselves and their options, it just makes for one frustrating read.

Edie Middlestein is eating herself to death. Her husband has left her, her kids make attempts to save her, and she remains indifferent to her impending death. Even when she finds joy in her family and in new friends, indifference and the need to eat dominate.

But why? Why does Edie feel this compulsion? Attenberg never truly gives any insight (food being equivalent to love doesn't cut it for me). Her take on Edie's eating isn't unsympathetic, it's not mocking, but it also lacks depth. Ruminations by Edie herself don't seem to give way to the source of her unhappiness, the root cause of her unease. Her family spends the majority of their time pushing each other away--as far as dysfunctional families go, the Middlesteins are pretty distant from even the cusp of true craziness, so their struggle to connect rings false. Their motivations and character development don't flow organically, and I'm left wondering why I should care about these people.

The only chapter that has a degree of honesty to it is "Seating Chart," where Edie and Richard Middlesteins' friends speak in the first-person plural at the Middlestein grandchildren's b’nai mitzvah and see all that the family itself lacks the insight (or willingness) to observe. It's also Richard and Edie's first meeting after his leaving her, and of course it's fraught with anger. But again, the problem here is that we don't see the anger through the main characters themselves. Sure, it's cheeky and funny through the eyes of old family friends, but the distance at which it's told is a reminder that we'll never reach an understanding of these characters.

One last thing--the flash-forwards annoyed me. Sure, we were told what was going to happen, but I was so disinterested in Edie's story that I found the flash-forwards a distraction, thinking that I might get more from the book if Attenberg had given us a little bit more of the future. The idea of that would quickly fade as I wasn't sure there was much more to the flash-forward beyond the sentence or two we were given. So I was caught in the middle (hah), but without a real pull toward either narrative, present or future. In the end, my thought was the Attenberg just had to stop jerking me around and say something worth caring about--it never happened.

Wouldn't recommend. ...more
3

Jul 24, 2016

This initially reminded me of my favorite type of indie movie where you feel like anything can happen/nothing happens/nothing needs to happen. "Life" is the story. You learn about each character from their own POV and others' POVs (including a chapter in the first-person collective) often repeating the same situation from different perspectives. It's centered around the matriarch of the Middlesteins, Edie, who is addicted to food and who has always equated food with love. We learn about each This initially reminded me of my favorite type of indie movie where you feel like anything can happen/nothing happens/nothing needs to happen. "Life" is the story. You learn about each character from their own POV and others' POVs (including a chapter in the first-person collective) often repeating the same situation from different perspectives. It's centered around the matriarch of the Middlesteins, Edie, who is addicted to food and who has always equated food with love. We learn about each family member's flaws as they choose to deal with Edie's declining health in very different ways.

This had all the promise of a 5-star book, but something just never took off. I hesitate to say it was too short, because I'm reading another book right now that has currently spanned three generations in 100 pages and I feel like I've lived each generation), but it felt too short, or surface level. Each time the narration changed--from Robin to Benny to Rachelle to Richard... I felt like I was just starting to really care about the character, and get inside their head, only to never come back to their POV.

Still, a solid read, with some great passages, just fell short. ...more
4

Mar 25, 2013

This novel focuses on the food craze that has totally swept our nation by looking at our constant food obsession through the eyes of a single character, Edie. Six of the chapters focus on Edies weight, nearly all of which emphasizing the fact that Edie was not a small woman. She fantasizes about leaving her small children alone in a McDonalds, so can go to the park and tear a McRib apart like an animal. And later she eats at a separate table away from her family, because she steals French fries This novel focuses on the food craze that has totally swept our nation by looking at our constant food obsession through the eyes of a single character, Edie. Six of the chapters focus on Edie’s weight, nearly all of which emphasizing the fact that Edie was not a small woman. She fantasizes about leaving her small children alone in a McDonald’s, so can go to the park and tear a McRib apart like an animal. And later she eats at a separate table away from her family, because she steals French fries from her two year-old daughter.

On the eve of a major surgery, to address her weight issue, she sneaks down to the kitchen to have potato chips and dip, despite the fact that she has explicit instructions to fast, and if not for her son Benny, she might have succeeded. And she’s in constant denial about not being fat, despite her business clothes not fitting right. While she does go so far as to remove the middle bun of a Big Mac, in her mind this is cutting out the carbs. A typical meal at this point might consist of a Big Mac, McRib (dessert sandwich), French fries, a chocolate chip cookie and an apple pie, and this is before her largest size.

If this isn’t scary, then maybe this will do the trick. We’re the most obese nation in the developed world, mainly because of our constant food obsession. We eat like it’s a race (guilty) or an all-out war with body parts flying in every direction, barreling through the lanes of the nearest fast food drive thru, so we don’t miss the start of our kid’s soccer match, spending billions on weight-loss products not regulated by the government, looking for a quick fix to a much larger problem.

Instead of changing our lifestyle, we immediately direct our attention to surgery: stapling stomachs, gastric bypass surgery, liposuction, gastric banding, and other alternatives. But let’s face it, what we have is an addiction to food. Plain and simple. And we’d rather die than deny ourselves worldly pleasures (food). I’ll admit I’m addicted to chocolate, and I have a mouth full of sweet teeth, but if I didn’t exert some sort of control, I’d consume entire bars of chocolate on a nightly basis before I even realized what I was doing.

As for the rest of the story, THE MIDDLESTEINS moved along in non-chronological fashion, with multiple storytellers and a collection of characters, with smooth writing and poignant prose, with affected dialogue and moving moments, captured oftentimes in harsh reality.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to grab a sandwich. ...more
4

Apr 06, 2013

Edie has lost her way and it is very, v. complicated. She is addicted to food and after a lifetime of struggle her body is giving up. Then her husband of thirty-something years leaves her. Her family? So not feeling it.

Oh, boy- I loved the structure of this novel! LOVED IT. Told from different perspectives, we learn about Edie at different ages and fluctuating weights. We learn how family members cope with Edie's failing health. And we try to understand a husband who dares to leave a sick and Edie has lost her way and it is very, v. complicated. She is addicted to food and after a lifetime of struggle her body is giving up. Then her husband of thirty-something years leaves her. Her family? So not feeling it.

Oh, boy- I loved the structure of this novel! LOVED IT. Told from different perspectives, we learn about Edie at different ages and fluctuating weights. We learn how family members cope with Edie's failing health. And we try to understand a husband who dares to leave a sick and struggling wife.

But it is Attenburg's descriptions of suburban family life that make this novel a BIG DEAL. And her wit is at its best when she is describing the complex bonds that tie families together.

Family responsibility.
What do we owe our parents? Eachother?
Think about it.
...more
1

Dec 13, 2012

I don't think Attenberg is a good writer.

She gives her characters insight without believable development before the big realization. She tries to create complex characters with faults, but we never get to bond with the characters and love them despite their flaws. Then, never having gotten the chance to know anything deeper and more substantial about any of the characters, in the end, everyone is just incredibly unlikeable.

What really bothers me is that this is supposed to be a story about I don't think Attenberg is a good writer.

She gives her characters insight without believable development before the big realization. She tries to create complex characters with faults, but we never get to bond with the characters and love them despite their flaws. Then, never having gotten the chance to know anything deeper and more substantial about any of the characters, in the end, everyone is just incredibly unlikeable.

What really bothers me is that this is supposed to be a story about family and yet NO ONE seems to really care about anyone else. They talk like they care or they want to care, but every action only separates. So in this magical moment where a connection occurs, it is completely unbelievable. How does something that was never there suddenly pop up and just happen? Which goes back to my comment that without any character development there is some kind of growth, yet without the work of actually getting there.

I also did not like how the author would try to take literary risks, but only do it halfway. She typically writes in the 3rd person, with each chapter dedicated to one particular character. Yet, in just one chapter, she randomly jumps around and throws in the 2nd person, in the same section as having used the third person, and then makes another jump to the future tense. If she at least did this in a more systematic, organized way I could appreciate it. But instead it comes off as a risk she tried once and then forgot about, maybe having intended to throw it out and yet forgot. ...more
1

Oct 02, 2012

I'm baffled over all the good reviews. (a quick-fast-read)

Unlikeable characters!
Unrealistic characters!
A little boring--
A little bit of a downer--
Nothing hilarious--
Nothing gripping--
No masterpiece--

Edie is a morbidly obese woman: Her relationship with food contributes to her health and marriage problems.

Richard is a Jewish-middle class white male -emotionally stunted.

All other characters in the book are lacking substantial character and relationship development. (better to read Franzen I'm baffled over all the good reviews. (a quick-fast-read)

Unlikeable characters!
Unrealistic characters!
A little boring--
A little bit of a downer--
Nothing hilarious--
Nothing gripping--
No masterpiece--

Edie is a morbidly obese woman: Her relationship with food contributes to her health and marriage problems.

Richard is a Jewish-middle class white male -emotionally stunted.

All other characters in the book are lacking substantial character and relationship development. (better to read Franzen or Tropper).

The writing style is frustrating at times. Often I had to read a paragraph over because I was lost as to who was being referred to --
or what point in time we were in.
The author 'suddenly' lapses into the past or future when a character is being discussed. (Annoying)

Attenberg 'skims' the surface on real issues of Obsity --
Her entire book feels like she is 'skimming'....
Leaving me with an overall empty feeling about this book (one way or another).


...more
5

Oct 15, 2012

Its YOUR fault

The Middlesteins is a fun book; its also a sad book. The Middlesteins are a middle class Jewish family living in Chicago. Theyre only a generation away from escaping the holocaust and/or their working class roots. This is a three generation saga that traces the impact each generation has on the next. There are no bad guys; there are only tragedies or triumphs. Best of all no one escapes unscathed or unloved and at least one narrowly runs fast enough to flee being excoriated. The It’s YOUR fault

“The Middlesteins” is a fun book; it’s also a sad book. The Middlesteins are a middle class Jewish family living in Chicago. They’re only a generation away from escaping the holocaust and/or their working class roots. This is a three generation saga that traces the impact each generation has on the next. There are no bad guys; there are only tragedies or triumphs. Best of all no one escapes unscathed or unloved and at least one narrowly runs fast enough to flee being excoriated. The book feels honest in the sense of ‘warts and all’. The abundance of love also makes it believable. The complications are glorious at the same that they’re frustrating. In other words, the Middlesteins are just like all our families.

All the action is centered on Edie Middlestein, the matriarch. The narrative dips back to World War II with her Chicago born mother and her Russian immigrant father but mostly it’s about the present generation. Edie has been addicted to food since childhood and her husband and grown children as well as her 12 year old twin grandchildren are obsessed with her failing health. She’s the reference point for many of their emotions and actions. She’s loved them all, shaped them all and kept them safe over the years. She’s failed sometimes but then who could rise to such perfection? As they cluster around her each family member is forced to evaluate their own lives and what it might mean to lose Edie. All their lives are enriched in the process.
“The Middlesteins” is a fairly short book though Attenberg enhances it by giving little snippets of the futures we never see, the futures made possible by the mess of the present.

This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher.
...more
5

Sep 10, 2013

i cant even, with this book. but i'll give it my best shot.

food was a wonderful place to hide.

this is the story of edie, a three-hundred-pound grandmother who is eating herself to death. it's also the story of her family... all of whom have their own share of problems and addictions and attitudes, all of whom are as real and fleshed out and vivid as the next. but it's edie herself who has been keeping me up at night. my heart aches for edie because i understand her. because i am her.

food was my i cant even, with this book. but i'll give it my best shot.

food was a wonderful place to hide.

this is the story of edie, a three-hundred-pound grandmother who is eating herself to death. it's also the story of her family... all of whom have their own share of problems and addictions and attitudes, all of whom are as real and fleshed out and vivid as the next. but it's edie herself who has been keeping me up at night. my heart aches for edie because i understand her. because i am her.

food was my first addiction, and it's always been my deepest problem. my most shameful secret. i dont weigh three hundred pounds, so it's easier to hide than it is for edie, but it's no less consuming, no less disruptive, no less destructive. with alcohol, i know i cant have just one; i know i cant stop once i start; so if i start, it's on me; and then all bets are off. but with food... there is just no avoiding it. it's something that has to be dealt, battled with, pleaded with, every day. and what might drive me crazy until the end of my days, what might not make sense when i try to put it into words, is that the way it makes me feel when i eat food i dont want to eat, didnt plan to eat, but somehow ate--the only way to deal with that feeling is to eat. i can be at work and feel like i'm going to literally throw up on someone if they get too close to me because i'm so full and so nauseated, and my coping method is to eat more food so that i dont have to deal with those feelings for another thirty seconds or so. and repeat, ad nauseum.

sometimes it feels like my life revolves around suffocating feelings by literally covering them with sugars and fats.

so i understand edie.

Food was made of love and love was made of food.

is there anything, anywhere, that doesnt revolve nearly entirely around either food or alcohol? why (for me, at least) does it seem like food is tied irrevocably to punishment and reward? no dinner if you're bad, extra dessert if you're good; i'm bad if i can't stop myself from eating a piece of cake, i'm good if i dont eat after a certain time at night. my dad used to sneak me chocolate and treats, and i know this was (is) his way of telling me he loves me; but why was it a secret? why would he do that, and then tell me i was too heavy, when i was thirteen, but offer no tools of how one would fix this problem? what could i do besides turn back to food, which always felt good? so yeah, food became something to hide. and the more it was hidden, the more it was something i dealt with in private--the more power it took on.

so i understand edie. and i understand, and even respect, but also pity, her for deciding to just let go. to give up. kind of saying, life is not working out as i had planned and this makes me feel better, so fuck all y'all. i know that attitude. i've embodied that attidude. there was something really beautiful and proud in edie too, a really wonderful nuance that wont allow any readers to put her in a box, a fat-person box, which would be more comfortable. because then we could pity from afar, maybe even wish she would just stop eating like that, like some members of her family. but it just isnt anything like that. because so little of this is about food. ...more
1

Oct 26, 2012

All the female characters are horrible, self-righteous bullies. All the male characters are spineless and boring. Not that there's anything wrong with that: but Attenberg never bothers to tell us why this is the case (with the exception of Robin, whose Explanatory Teenage Trauma fills all of 2 pages, but probably could have served as the basis of a much more interesting novel than this one).

Why doesn't Josh get even one section to tell his story? There are strong suggestions throughout the book All the female characters are horrible, self-righteous bullies. All the male characters are spineless and boring. Not that there's anything wrong with that: but Attenberg never bothers to tell us why this is the case (with the exception of Robin, whose Explanatory Teenage Trauma fills all of 2 pages, but probably could have served as the basis of a much more interesting novel than this one).

Why doesn't Josh get even one section to tell his story? There are strong suggestions throughout the book that he might be gay, but nothing ever develops from that.

Why is Richard Middlestein such a ridiculous, halfhearted caricature of an Updike protagonist, convinced that sex will solve all of his problems?

Why are the characters even Jewish? So they have something to talk about occasionally? For the sake of that one chapter in the collective voice at the end?

Most unforgivably of all, the descriptions of food - which is the central conceit of the story, remember - are breathtakingly unimaginative.

This is truly Franzen country: the intimate life of an unexceptional Midwestern family (which, if you ask me, is uninteresting even when he does it). Maybe the emotional arc is just so subtle that I don't "get" it; maybe there are a million meaningful little geometries in this tapestry that I'm too blind to see. But I really don't think so. I think that this is just a deeply uninspired, mediocre, and derivative book.

...more
2

Jun 21, 2012

Really, I'd give this two and a half stars, but I don't know how to do that.

This book came with stickered-on blurb of approval from Jonathan Franzen, and I thought to myself: Wow! Ok then!

We meet the matriarch of this family immediately. She is introduced to us as a child, and we learn that from the beginning, for Edie, food equals love. What follows are chapters focusing on alternating characters and which take place in alternating periods of history: Edie as a child, next Edie's daughter as an Really, I'd give this two and a half stars, but I don't know how to do that.

This book came with stickered-on blurb of approval from Jonathan Franzen, and I thought to myself: Wow! Ok then!

We meet the matriarch of this family immediately. She is introduced to us as a child, and we learn that from the beginning, for Edie, food equals love. What follows are chapters focusing on alternating characters and which take place in alternating periods of history: Edie as a child, next Edie's daughter as an adult, then Edie as a teen, followed by Edie's daughter-in-law, etc. The Middlestein family consists of Edie, her husband Richard, their children, Robin and Benny, Benny's wife, Rachelle, and their children, Emily and Josh. All are represented in turn, with the exception of Emily and Josh.

The main thrust of this story is how Edie's family members react to her decreasing level of overall health and wellness as her weight climbs. What I failed to fully buy was WHY they "cared" so much when, in my opinion, they didn't seem all that close to her. The relationships between the characters were very sketchy... I mean, we got that Robin was prickly and Benny was the easy going guy. Richard was the distant dad who spent more time with his business than with his family. And Edie was itching to get out of the house and back into work. So there was that historical level of disconnect and I never felt like this family was ever anything but a group of individuals who really never knew each other.

Benny, meanwhile, feels like he and Rachelle are no longer the "team" they once were and he wonders when that happened. But the reader only ever sees Rachelle as kind of a rabidly inflexible health nut, aka the stark contrast to Edie, and I personally can't imagine what else she ever would have been. So I guess that she used to be something else that Benny misses? I don't know, nor do I care.

This book was no "The Corrections." It was very surface. It was an easy and not completely unenjoyable read. I wish it had been a little more meaty. ...more
2

Jul 14, 2013

Was surprised to see I didn't review this. What an odd unlikeable book. Yes, it's well written, but ugh, what uncomfortable reading. Attenberg seems to dislike all her subjects, a particularly loathsome family of suburban Jews, but she especially hates women. All the women are especially unlikeable and emotionally petty. And the tortured relationship to food is just overdone, and frankly conflicted - I felt like the author had food issues floating too close to the surface. Edie is huge, Was surprised to see I didn't review this. What an odd unlikeable book. Yes, it's well written, but ugh, what uncomfortable reading. Attenberg seems to dislike all her subjects, a particularly loathsome family of suburban Jews, but she especially hates women. All the women are especially unlikeable and emotionally petty. And the tortured relationship to food is just overdone, and frankly conflicted - I felt like the author had food issues floating too close to the surface. Edie is huge, grotesque - the chapters begin with how many pounds she weighs (literally) - and we are treated to scene after scene of her stuffing gargantuan amounts of food into herself. Food is love to Edie, and junk food and gourmet Chinese alike are richly described, but we are meant to be pruriently disgusted by her, even though her bitchy daughter and daughter-in-law's controlling rejection of food is also repulsive and irritating. The theme seems to be that women will control you, dehumanize you and belittle you, whether by overeating or by starving themselves. No thanks! ...more
2

Feb 03, 2015

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I had much higher expectations for this book. Read so many good things about it, both from reader's and critics. What a disappointment.

I understand that the book is an attempt to use the entire Jewish family as a character. The main character, in fact. Yes, I am sure this is a great and humorous example for young Jewish children; one that they would be able to identify with in ways that I could never pretend to understand. Unfortunately, I cannot attest to my impression of this book as a Jewish I had much higher expectations for this book. Read so many good things about it, both from reader's and critics. What a disappointment.

I understand that the book is an attempt to use the entire Jewish family as a character. The main character, in fact. Yes, I am sure this is a great and humorous example for young Jewish children; one that they would be able to identify with in ways that I could never pretend to understand. Unfortunately, I cannot attest to my impression of this book as a Jewish reader. However, what I can say is that, to me, this novel fell short in numerous aspects.

No empathy for any of the characters. They honestly all seemed selfish, pushovers, careless another lives, not willing turban considerations their lives, pretentious, bitter, holding lifelong grudges, or all of the above.

When of the most annoying things, as in real life, was reading about all these characters complaining about things that they are doing nothing whatsoever to change. Rather than feel good about watching this tight knit family, it was more like a nightmare, watching all the relatives you hate get together during the holidays.

Eddie, the main character. Completely overweight, obese, to the point of needing a bypass. Does not care. I would think she is probably severely depressed, as she makes absolutely no effort to change her ways. Of course, it helps not that other people often encourage these suicidal like behaviors. For example, Anna and her family at a local Chinese Restaurant give her an extreme array of plates, enough to serve probably six to seven people, mostly on the house. Anna's father, in fact, ends up being her lover after her husband Richard leaves her. Giving her a little happiness in her last years, before her carelessness and downright refusal to acknowledge her reckless way of life finally takes her away from this earth.

Richard was, by far, my favorite character; probably the only one for whom I felt real empathy. This, despite the fact that all the characters seem to outwardly condemn him. Why? Because after almost fifty years of servitude to the self-proclaimed difficult woman by the name of Eddie, he finally decided that he could no longer watch the woman he loves kill herself slowly. (Robin actually tried to forbid her father from attending the funeral, saying he had no right to be there. Notably, the only person who defended him was Rachelle.)

Eddie does not do much to make things easier for her husband. Not for anyone else in hey family, or her friends. In fact, she blatantly ignores any health advice anyone gives her, barely acknowledging that anything is amiss. Eddie likely stopped loving her husband long ago. This is believable, since she surely stopped loving herself at some point. Because of the marriage contract he entered into so many years ago, Richard is obligated, expected to sacrifice his own well being and happiness for hers? Please. Because he decides to disengage himself from a situation that day after day, hour after hour, pulls him down into the darkness of despair, he is a despicable man? That does not deserve to speak to his grandchildren? That is shunned for his actions? Really, what century are we in? On that note, what world are we in? Since when is marriage an agreement of slavery? Yes, to "have and to hold", "in sickness and in health". She is a sick woman, people say. As if that excuses her to not try. As if that gives her the right to a man that will care for her forever, without her lifting a finger. The madness.

Two children. Benny is an ideal son, worrying about her all the time, found what he can for her. Has, understandably, given up on having long conversations with her, though he is by far the more considerate child, for example, although he cannot successfully tell her what to do, he stays up all night on evenings before her surgery in order to prevent her from breaking the necessary fast. He and his longtime wife Rachelle have the middlesteins only grandchildren call my Emily and Josh. The grandchildren are genuinely good kids, though often considerably difficult. Surprisingly Rochelle almost same to have the most invested in the Middlestein parents. She spends the most time taking care of Edie, trying to convince her to change her ways, shuttling her to the increasingly frightening number of appointments.

Robin, the daughter. There only other Middlestein that had any weight problems, though, of course, her problems have yet to teach a medical issue. She's us party much bitter, boring, sad,upset, cold, unempathetic, or all of the above throughout the book. Until she meets her lover (her first in life) Daniel. She gets a little less depressing. Which is not saying much.

Another thing that really irritated me was Attenberg's use of foreshadowing. Because it was not really foreshadowing. It was something more like taking the easy way out to make things read all and make complete sense to the reader. There are sentences inserted like "Edie was not to know this now, but twenty years later she would remember this moment and realize this is when she began her love affair with food", or "She did not know that she needed this protection, nor did she know that she would need it even more in a few years, when things got worse with her parents. Then she would have paid more attention. For now, though, she was merely relieved to have her there". As if Attenberg could not aptly describe the comforting need of this protection without all this other filler that serves mostly to distract the reader from the present?

The best lines in the entire book:

"He made his way to the dining room table. He was going to eat the hell out of that creamed herring. He grabbed a handful of baby rye crackers, and then he stood there and dipped one crisp cracker after another into the tangy, smoky whitefish. He could stay here all day, if necessary. At least he had something to do, a purpose at that moment. It was then he thought he understood any, and why she ate like she had; constantly, seriously, with no regard for taste or content. He believed he at last had a glimmer of an understanding of why she had eaten herself into the grave. Because food was a wonderful place to hide."

Some insight into the motivations behind Edie's actions. Finally. Inactions, rather. Unfortunately, Attenberg lacked the insight to explore this more. And how much more insightful it would have been to have parts of the book from Edie's point of view. Attenberg wrote from more than three other point of views. Why not hers?

If she had, Eddie might have seemed less indifferent to life. Far less frustrating to read about. She might have been likeable. It would have changed the dynamics of the characters. It would have changed the entire aura, the entire feeling, the entire experience of reading this book.

Sorry. Less to the author and her fans than to myself for this disappointment. I did not get it. An unremarkable book. ...more
4

Nov 22, 2012

I really liked this one, even though it hurt my heart. I was raised by a compulsive overeater. It's a horrible thing to watch the person you love most murder themselves with food. I lived through the ups and downs, the fad diets, the workout regiments, the cheat days, the goal weights, the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and the heart surgery. The literal thick and thin.

I hadn't read anything by Attenberg. I was really engaged by her writing, even the parts I didn't like felt realistic to me. My I really liked this one, even though it hurt my heart. I was raised by a compulsive overeater. It's a horrible thing to watch the person you love most murder themselves with food. I lived through the ups and downs, the fad diets, the workout regiments, the cheat days, the goal weights, the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and the heart surgery. The literal thick and thin.

I hadn't read anything by Attenberg. I was really engaged by her writing, even the parts I didn't like felt realistic to me. My only complaint is that we don't see enough good in Edie. Every character in the story orbits around her and we hear from them that she is fierce and bold and brilliant and passionate and beautiful in her own way. A force to be reckoned with. There's too much telling and not enough showing. The Edie we experience is emotionally abusive to her husband and passively aggressive towards her family. Also there wasn't enough backstory on Edie's food issues. We didn't need some big dramatic saga, but most people don't develop massively destructive eating disorders for no apparent reason. Edie's eating is so wildly out of control and we never really know why.

Although in a way that's sort of real too, right? Why does Edie eat so much...is there any real (legitimate) reason? Why does everyone love and care about her? Perhaps it's enough that she's a wife, a mother and a grandmother. ...more
3

Oct 20, 2012

I expected something different from this book. From all the bits and pieces I read on various sites I thought this would be more of a humorous book. I found it quite depressing. The hardest part for me is that the author didn't make me understand why Edie had an eating disorder in the first place. Given that she had this before she married, it couldn't be blamed on her husband or her kids. I did like where she went with how her eating had such an effect on her husband, children, and I expected something different from this book. From all the bits and pieces I read on various sites I thought this would be more of a humorous book. I found it quite depressing. The hardest part for me is that the author didn't make me understand why Edie had an eating disorder in the first place. Given that she had this before she married, it couldn't be blamed on her husband or her kids. I did like where she went with how her eating had such an effect on her husband, children, and grandchildren over the years. Overall I thought it a decent enough read, I just lacked connection to any of the characters. ...more
5

Oct 28, 2012

There's a lot of truth to the adage, "Food is life." Food can nourish, nurture, soothe, bring people together, even keep problems temporarily at bay. Those are just a few reasons that so many cultures and religions have festive meals as part of their traditions. (I've joked through the years during Jewish holidays that nearly every one is built around the tenet, "They tried to kill us, we defeated them, let's eat.")

For Edie Middlestein, food comforts, heals, brings her pleasure, and satisfies There's a lot of truth to the adage, "Food is life." Food can nourish, nurture, soothe, bring people together, even keep problems temporarily at bay. Those are just a few reasons that so many cultures and religions have festive meals as part of their traditions. (I've joked through the years during Jewish holidays that nearly every one is built around the tenet, "They tried to kill us, we defeated them, let's eat.")

For Edie Middlestein, food comforts, heals, brings her pleasure, and satisfies her like nothing else. From a young age, raised in a Jewish household full of scholars and immigrants, she was surrounded by an overabundance of love and food. And food fueled her ambitions to be a stellar student through high school and college, into a law career.

What food couldn't do, however, was fill the emotional void she felt following the death of her parents, or help exacerbate her marriage to pharmacist Richard. So she ate. And ate. And ate some more, even as she raised two children, easy-going Benny and emotional Robin.

But now Edie weighs more than 300 pounds. Doctors have told her if she doesn't stop eating she'll die. When Richard leaves her, tired of their angry, bitter, empty marriage and Edie's addiction to food, her family rallies around her to try and save her. Benny, now a successful, pot-smoking family man, tries to care for Edie as best he can, while Robin, who blames her father for everything, vacillates between being nurturing and struggling with her own emotional issues. And Benny's perfectionist wife, Rachelle, tries to take control over Edie's life as long as it doesn't interfere with her planning her twins' b'nai mitzvah extravaganza or her need to control her family's eating habits.

Alternating between past and present (with some allusion to future events), the book follows Edie at different points in her life and her addiction to food, and also alternates between Edie's story and Richard, Benny, Robin, and Rachelle's. The Middlesteins is a funny, sensitive, and emotionally evocative look at a family in crisis, where food is an easy target of blame.

As a former personal chef and someone obsessed with cooking, talking about, and eating food, I can certainly identify with some of Edie's feelings, although not to her level of extremity. I thought Jami Attenberg did a phenomenal job with this book and her look at the emotional and physical effects of an addiction to food. She created some very vivid characters and she treated them well, because she could have turned this into a caricature. Although some of the shifts in narration and the mentions of what happens to the characters in the future distracted me a bit from time to time, I really enjoyed this book, and it made me think quite a bit. ...more
4

Jul 02, 2013

Middlesteins was almost a five star for me. My feelings were reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge. Edie is also one of those characters who you somewhat dislike and yet understand and appreciate why she is who she is. The book is a portrait of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Chicago. Married thirty years, they are imploding upon themselves. Edie, the mom, is eating herself to death, food being the only thing left that makes her feel alive. Dad has lost hope and feels her vacillation of apathy vs Middlesteins was almost a five star for me. My feelings were reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge. Edie is also one of those characters who you somewhat dislike and yet understand and appreciate why she is who she is. The book is a portrait of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Chicago. Married thirty years, they are imploding upon themselves. Edie, the mom, is eating herself to death, food being the only thing left that makes her feel alive. Dad has lost hope and feels her vacillation of apathy vs anger, her unwillingness or inability (?) to change, and their eventual migrating apart have destroyed him as well. And he leaves, much to the wrath of his family and confusion of their friends. The daughter has her own issues of attachment and resentment. The son is swimming around in the turmoil of the picture perfect suburban life/wife and kids. The chapters float time frames and perspectives clearly, based somewhat on Edie's ballooning weight and what emotional developments precipitate it.

The narrator is retelling with sharp prose those blunt inner feelings we never express, making it dark and funny at the same time. She plants seeds of the future within the chapters, giving the reader a glimpse of how things eventually play out. Attenberg captures the complexity of life's experiences and interactions. Its like chemical reactions that change with the quantity and quality of the elements. One combination might cause an explosion, but the same combination in another circumstance would have an entirely different result. Such is the essence of what brings people to such a myriad of emotions. Clean, terse and yet still a glimmer of hope. I do like this kind of emotionally wrought read. ...more

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