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The Middlesteins: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Jami Attenberg
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (401 customer reviews)

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Book Description

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.

Editorial Reviews Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012: At five years old, Edie already tipped 62 pounds. She’d clearly “surpassed luscious,” but how could her lioness of a mother--or her father, who’d starved all the way from Ukraine to Chicago, and so also felt “carnal, primal, about food”--resist feeding her? They all believed that “food was made of love … and they could never deny themselves a bit of anything they desired.” So Edie indulged for decades, expanding finally to 350 pounds, discovering (when Richard, her husband of 30 years, gave up trying to stop her and moved out) that food is “a wonderful place to hide.” Her adult children’s extravagant worry--mounting with each diabetic surgery and undistracted by her grandchildren’s choreographed, chocolate fountained b’nai mitzvah preparations--do nothing to dampen Edie’s enthusiasm to consume, and Attenberg describes Edie’s meals with a sensual relish that could verge on repulsive if it didn’t so readily trigger our own desires. The same story told with less compassionate humor could have easily been distasteful, but The Middlesteins has a light, tragicomic touch that lends it unexpectedly poignant heft. –Mari Malcolm


The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages -- Jonathan Franzen Family ties are anything but simple, and the joy of this book lies in Attenberg's merciless, tender, often brilliantly funny peeling back of the layers of history. Sublime. -- Kate Saunders Daily Mail Flows like double cream ... Like the best culinary confections, Attenberg's prose is complex, bitter as well as tender Sunday Telegraph Blazing, ferocious and greathearted ... The Middlesteins will blow you away -- Lauren Groff 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 ... [A] wonderfully messy and layered family portrait Kirkus The Middlesteins, the novel, is great literature: warm, tragic, funny and deeply, complexly, entirely human. -- Stefan Merrill Block This gem of a book is swift, moving and brutally honest, but it has a family-centric moral at its heart: Without family, we are nothing. New York Post Attenberg is superb at mocking the cliches of middle-class life by giving them the slightest turn to make people suddenly real and wholly sympathetic. Washington Post Attenberg evokes memorable moments of authentic sadness and tenderness while thoughtfully and comically examining the question of what we inherit from our families. In the case of the Middlesteins, it is many things, including their sometimes-enduring love for each other. San Fransisco Chronicle Edie pulses with life no matter how close she seems to dying, and her character is emblematic of the tough compassion Attenberg exhibits throughout the novel. Chicago Tribue The Middlesteins is a marvel. Molly Ringwald The Middlesteins is an absolute pleasure. Francesca Segal Attenberg has the Tolstoyan gift for creating life on the page. Sometimes all she needs to capture a soul is a couple of sentences. But the pleasure she takes in these people goes beyond compassion...When Attenberg shows us the world through their eyes, they're not just interesting and sympathetic; they're a treat to be with. Business Week A wonderfully messy and layered family portrait. Publishers Weekly The Middlesteins is a tender, sad and funny look at a family and their mother. In fact, it's so readable, it's practically edible. NPR Throughout this poignant novel, the characters wrestle with two defining questions: What do we owe each other after a life together? What do we owe ourselves? O Magazine The Middlesteins masterfully reveals the emotional landscape of one family's unusual connections and disconnections - and allows the hope that different connections may take place. Just another quirky family story? Anything but. Shelf Awareness Kinetic with hilarity and anguish, romance and fury, Attenberg's rapidly consumed yet nourishing novel anatomizes our insatiable hunger for love, meaning, and hope. Booklist Jami Attenberg has a gift for making you sympathize with each and every one of her characters. The result is a rich family portrait that's sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and gripping all the way through. The Middlesteins are every bit as complex and contradictory as your family, or mine. I'm still thinking about them long after I turned the final page. J. Courtney Sullivan I couldn't help absolutely devouring The Middlesteins. This smorgasbord of a book about food, family, love, sex, and loss is like the Jewish The Corrections, yet menschier and with a heart-and it's hilarious! Also, it made me add more cinnamon to a pie I was baking. You'll understand why once you read it. Jenna Blum The Middlesteins is a truly original American novel, at once topical and universally timeless. Jami Attenberg has created a Midwestern Jewish family who are quintessentially familiar but fiercely, mordantly idiosyncratic. This novel will make you laugh, cry, cringe in recognition, and crave lamb-cumin noodles. This is a stunningly wonderful book. Kate Christensen A comedy of manners, its dark moments alleviated by small epiphanies and snatched moments of joy Jewish Chronicle Attenberg writes well, with economy and a welcome lack of sentimentality Financial Times Funny, eccentric ... warm and profound Red Moving, hilarious Observer This epic tale of marriage, family and addiction is full of humour and heart Good Housekeeping Superb ... a great storyteller Evening Standard A complex confection, bittersweet and tender Sunday Telegraph Superb ... Attenberg is a great storyteller Scotsman

Product Details

  • File Size: 1615 KB
  • Print Length: 289 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing; 1 edition (October 23, 2012)
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0076BQJMO
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #63,386 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 113 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Food was a wonderful place to hide." October 23, 2012
In "The Middlesteins," Jami Attenberg presents a stinging portrayal of a dysfunctional family living in Chicago. As a young girl, Edie Herzen eats compulsively; her mother is an enabler who encourages her daughter's mindless consumption of calorie-laden foods. Although Edie has a sharp mind, she is the prisoner of a gigantic appetite that can never be satiated. Later, she will become a lawyer who practices her profession for more than three decades. She and her husband, Richard Middlestein, have two children, Benny and Robin. By the time Benny is married with two kids of his own, Edie has an advanced case of diabetes complicated by arterial disease in her legs. She will be so morbidly obese that her doctors order her to lose weight or die.

Readers who glance at the bright yellow cover may expect a light-hearted Jewish comedy of manners; they will be sorely disappointed. "The Middlesteins" is remorseless in its exploration of all that can go wrong between husbands and wives as well as parents and children. Edie and Richard have not communicated for a long time; they are distant both physically and emotionally. After close to forty years of marriage, Richard walks out in disgust. He leaves his ailing wife to cope with her daunting medical problems alone.

Attenberg is a talented writer whose well-crafted prose, sharp dialogue, and unusual plot hold our interest. However, reading this novel is a bit like watching a six-car pileup on the Long Island Expressway. We are open-mouthed in horrified fascination, wondering how such a catastrophic event could have occurred. In "The Middlesteins," most of the characters have made a hash of their lives, and none of the protagonists is particularly appealing.
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74 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A look at emptiness... October 24, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Jami Attenberg's new novel, "The Middlesteins", has already garnered so many well-written and perceptive reviews that I don't think I can add much. But I did want to give it five stars and keep the rating up. Attenberg's book is a look, in part, at what makes people eat. Filling up the emptiness inside with massive amounts of food is one reason, but so is the thought of food as a tool of control over others.

The Middlesteins, parents Richard and Edie, children Robin and Benny, and grandchildren Emily and Josh, live in Chicago and its northwest suburbs. Various people are in the Middlestein universe but Edie is the glue that holds the family together. She has a larger-than-life personality as well as a voracious appetite for food. After 40 years of marriage and with many physical ailments that can be traced directly to her over eating, her husband Richard admits he cannot live with her anymore and leaves her. The separation tears apart a family already made up of fragile personal alliances. Their children both understand their father's position in an impersonal way, but can't countenance the decision on a personal level. The year of Richard and Edie's separation also has many other pivotal events, like the twins' bat and bar mitzvah, and Robin moving from friendship to romance with her friend, Daniel.

What makes the Middlestein family "tick" can be directly traced to Edie's over eating. Everyone is consumed by the food Edie consumes, and fat or thin, weight is the on-going issue in the family. Eating at Edie's favorite Chinese restaurant by members of her family can be viewed by the sizes of the portions consumed.

Jami Attenberg is an excellent writer and does what few novelists do and that is they sort of "telegraph" future plot points in advance.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Greek Tragedy Populated by Jews October 23, 2012
I was captivated by The Middlesteins: A Novel. It had me from the first page and didn't let me go until the end.

It is about self-destruction, self-centeredness, and hope. The characters all try to do what they do best but, unfortunately, despite their best efforts, they fail.

Edie has been a compulsive eater since childhood. She is now a grown women, probably in her fifties and she is morbidly obese, weighing 332 pounds. Her husband of 30+ years has walked out on her and she has developed diabetes and concurrent problems with her legs that require surgery. Her doctor has told her that if she continues on the course she is on she will die. She had been a successful lawyer but because of her weight, her colleagues buy her out and she no longer works. She had once been a strong woman with intensity. She is now intense but weak. All her energy goes into food and eating and this is killing her.

Her two children, Benny and Robin, don't know what to do. Benny is passive and Robin is beside herself with worry. Benny's wife, Rachelle, an obsessive compulsive person and very assertive, puts Edie on a regimen meant for her to lose weight and be healthier. She has Edie walking a mile a day and tries to get her to eat healthier food. In fact, in Rachelle's own home she has her own family on a health regimen that is more like a starvation diet - hardly anything but greens are served for meals. Her own family is starving.

Edie's ex-husband, Richard, is determined to find a girlfriend and searches the Jewish sites on the internet daily. He is the owner of a pharmacy that is failing.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great read. Finished in one day.
Published 13 days ago by Meek
4.0 out of 5 stars Jewish Family Story
This was a quick and easy read. It was funny and bittersweet. It is a story about connection, responsibility, and the search for happiness told within the context of Jewish... Read more
Published 28 days ago by antbethf
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
A very interesting story. A little depressing but still a good read.
Published 2 months ago by Caryn
2.0 out of 5 stars Ugh
Published 2 months ago by J Finnegan
3.0 out of 5 stars Our book club thought book was quick read, however ...
Our book club thought book was quick read, however they didn't think it was thatvrealistic.
Published 2 months ago by Sue Kalmon
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read
An engrossing novel about the complications of family life
Published 2 months ago by Ratila
5.0 out of 5 stars Liked it very much
Raises many fascinating questions about familial obligations. I want to re-read it before making decisions. Very well written and uses time juxtapositions intriguingly. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Breyne Moskowitz
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
It was different and interesting.
Published 3 months ago by Rebecca E
5.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing, well written, well-developed characters
An absorbing read ... hard to put down. Loving it!!
Published 3 months ago by Koo
4.0 out of 5 stars a lot to love
The characters in "The Middlesteins" have the literary equivalent of the five basic tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Lori
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More About the Author

Jami Attenberg is the author of a story collection, Instant Love, and the novels, The Kept Man and The Melting Season. Her last book, The Middlesteins, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction and was published in nine countries. Her next book, Saint Mazie, will be published in June 2015. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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