Synopses & Reviews
For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie's enormous girth. She's obsessed with food — thinking about it, eating it — and if she doesn't stop, she won't have much longer to live.
When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle — a whippet thin perfectionist — is intent on saving her mother-in-law's life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children's spectacular b'nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie's devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?
With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.
"A panoply of neurotic characters fills Attenberg's multigenerational novel about a Midwestern Jewish family. Shifting points of view tell the story of the breakup and aftermath of Edie and Richard Middlestein's nearly 40-year marriage as Edie slowly eats herself to death. Richard and his brilliant but demanding and ever larger wife raised two children. Robin is intense and hostile; Benny lives an idyll with his wife, Rachelle, in the Chicago suburbs, sharing a joint after putting their twins to bed at night. Much of Rachelle's time is spent assuring that the twins' b'nai mitzvah extravaganza goes off without a hitch. When complications surrounding Edie's diabetes precipitate Richard's filing for divorce, the already tightly wound Rachelle becomes obsessed with the family's physical and moral health. Soon the affable Benny's hair is falling out in clumps. Attenberg (Instant Love) makes her characters' thoughts Richard and Benny in particular seem utterly real, and her wry, observational humor often hits sideways rather than head-on. Edie's overeating, described with great sensuality, will resonate, with only the obstreperousness of all three generations of Middlestein women (granddaughter Emily included) marring this wonderfully messy and layered family portrait. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages, but it wasn't until its final pages that I fully appreciated the range of Attenberg's sympathy and the artistry of her storytelling." Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom
"[C]austic, entertaining and bighearted....Though Edie is undoubtedly at the center of this maelstrom, she is not Attenberg's only, or even primary, subject; as the novel's title suggests, the real subject here is a suburban Jewish family, and how it reacts to the disaster unfolding in its midst....The burning question, which Attenberg explores with patience and sensitivity, is why Edie has embarked on her self-destructive path. The answers themselves aren't surprising....What's remarkable is the unfailing emotional accuracy and specificity with which Attenberg renders Edie's despair." Julie Orringer, The New York Times Book Review
"A smart novel that tackles big issues." Chicago Tribune
"Attenberg writes with restraint and just a dash of bitterness. The result is a story that repeatedly tosses off little bursts of wisdom that catch you off guard....[She] is superb at mocking the cliches of middle-class life by giving them the slightest turn to make people suddenly real and wholly sympathetic....Attenberg's success lies in miniatures; she mutes even the few potential moments of conflict, focusing instead on the inaudible repercussions. But with a wit that never mocks and a tenderness that never gushes, she renders this family's ordinary tragedies as something surprisingly affecting." Ron Charles, The Washington Post
"From Attenberg (The Melting Season, 2010, etc.), the deeply satisfying story of a Chicago family coming apart at the seams and weaving together at the same time....While the novel focuses intensely on each member of the family, it also offers a panoramic, more broadly humorous, verging-on-caricature view of the Midwestern Jewish suburbia in which the Middlesteins are immersed, from the shopping centers to the synagogues....A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life." Kirkus Reviews
"Attenberg (The Kept Man) finds ample comic moments in this wry tale about an unraveling marriage. She has a great ear for dialog, and the novel is perfectly paced. Her characters are all believable, if not always sympathetic." Library Journal
About the Author
Jami Attenberg is the author of a story collection, Instant Love, and two novels, The Kept Man and The Melting Season. She has contributed essays and criticism to the New York Times, Print, Nylon, Time Out New York, BookForum, Nerve, and many other publications. She lives in New York and is originally from Chicago.