Saturday, April 6, 2013

Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

The Middlesteins
Author: Jami Attenberg
Published: October 23, 2012
Genre: fiction
Hardcover: 273 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 5 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): 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?

My Thoughts: I have been anxious to read this book, wondering if it would live up to the expectations that I had for it after reading several rave reviews and falling in love with the synopsis. It had all the makings for a great book, so when I finally stumbled across a copy at the library, I snatched it up, eager to get home and start it. I was a bit surprised because the book isn's very long (only 273 pages), so I wondered if maybe it was overhyped. But, just like everyone else, this book turned out to be a fantastic piece of literature. Jami Attenberg shines as a writer in this book, using her prose to craft a story of a typical American family, living in the suburbs, trying to live the American dream. Part of that American dream, unfortunately, is overeating, which manifests itself in Edie. She was always large, growing up in a home where her mother never stopped her from eating and was amazed at her daughter's appetite. The book alternates in chapters from Edie's past, chronicling her weight at a certain stage in her life. It's almost as if the weight defines who she is as a person in that moment, which really hits home. The other chapters are set in the present day and are told from various family members points of view, whether it be Richard, Edie's soon-to-be ex-husband, her children, even her grandchildren. It's amazing how one person's weight can affect so many people.

The characters in this story are what really made it for me. With Edie's chapters showing what it was like for her at certain points in her life, with her highs and lows in terms of weight, and the present day, you are able to understand why this family is the way that it is, and why Edie is the woman that she is. While I don't support her unhealthy eating habits, Attenberg shows what it is like growing up in the average American home, where food is emphasized as a means of expressing yourself. Edie eats when she's happy, sad, frustrated, and goes on and on at one point in the book about how eating is feeling. I was amazed at how perfectly Attenberg hit this on the head, describing our country's main issue with food. She didn't make it patronizing in anyway, just described why eating is so important to Edie. Her family all plays a role in her obesity and her disease also shapes them as individuals. Robin, her daughter, is the one most affected by her mother, for while she was an overweight child, she has a turning point where she changes her life and only eats what she needs to, realizing the role that food has played in her mother's life.

I could go on and on about this novel, discussing how Edie's relationship with food affects not only herself, but her family as well. This is a book that will certainly hit home with American today because I'm sure that everyone knows at least one person who is overweight or obese. This novel will resonate with you on so many levels that you will be sure to find yourself in at least one of the characters inside these pages. This is a book for modern America, a book that shows us what we are. Jami Attenberg really hit it out of the park with this one, giving us a glimpse into the average American family and their relationship with food. This is such a short read that I will recommend it to anyone, because even if you don't tend to like books like this, you will rush through it quickly. Seriously, just go get yourself a copy!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a book I would be very interested in reading. I have put it on my wishlist.