The Middlesteins: Book summary and reviews of The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins

By Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins
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  • Published in USA  Oct 2012,
    288 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Attenberg makes her characters' thoughts - Richard and Benny in particular - seem utterly real, and her wry, observational humor often hits sideways rather than head-on." - Publishers Weekly

"Starred Review. Deeply satisfying ... A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life." - Kirkus Reviews

"Attenberg 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 ... [She] seamlessly weaves comedy and tragedy in this warm and engaging family saga of love and loss." - Library Journal

"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

"Starred Review. [Attenberg's] characters' thoughts - Richard and Benny in particular - seem utterly real, and her wry, observational humor often hits sideways rather than head-on ... [A] wonderfully messy and layered family portrait." - Publishers Weekly

"Jami Attenberg has written a brilliant novel in The Middlesteins, as blazing, ferocious, and great-hearted as anything I've read. For anyone who has ever known heartbreak, the terrible love of a family, or a passion so deep you think it'll kill you, The Middlesteins will blow you away." - Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton

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Rated 4 of 5 of 5 by Dorothy L
A Good Read
I liked this book. I didn't love it. Most of the characters were very quirky. They weren't stereotypes but they weren't like people in my family so I couldn't always relate to them. The preoccupation with food may have been a bit too much. The voices are clear except near the very end of the book (which I won't spoil) the voice suddenly changes at an event to one we haven't heard throughout the book before. This annoyed me. We should have heard it before or afterwards or not at all. When you want a break from heavier books this suits the purpose and it does keep your interest once you get into it. The ending, for me, was predictable.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Diane S.
The Middlesteins
Food, everything it can and does mean to a person, from comfort, love, relaxation, well being, to in the case of this novel, a cause of death. 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 real, 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 aw 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.

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More Information

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, Slate, Time Out New York, BookForum, Nerve, and many other publications. A blogger since 1998, she received the Village Voice's Blog Post of the Year award for 2010. She lives in New York and is originally from Chicago.

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