Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Book Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

Title: The Middlesteins: A Novel
Author: Jami Attenberg
Enjoyment Rating: ***
Source: Library Copy
This book would be rated: PG-13 for sexual references

Edie Middlestein eats. For as long as she can remember, food has been the way she has coped with hardship or stress. And now, in her sixties, it's catching up with her. She weighs more than 300 lbs. She has diabetes. She's had two medical procedures, and her doctors keep threatening her with bypass surgery. It's cost her her marriage. And yet, she can't stop. She doesn't want to stop eating three hot dogs, entire bags of chips, dinners at Chinese restaurants intended to serve entire families. Food tastes good. It fills her.

But the rest of her family-- her estranged husband, her son and his wife and children, her daughter, all worry about Edie. And in The Middlesteins, we see not just the portrait of a woman, but the portrait of an entire family as they react to that woman's problems. The book reminds me a lot of Kate Atkinson's Behind the Scenes at the Museum-- with a tragic and funny character at the center. Sometimes the way that Attenberg tells us what's going to happen to characters ten years in the future bugs me (it feels irrelevant), and the characters are redeemed by being just a shade less unsympathetic than those in Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.

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