The Middlesteins
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The Middlesteins

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3.43 of 5 stars 3.43  ·  rating details  ·  12,857 ratings  ·  1,811 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 nex...more
ebook, 201 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 2012)
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karen

oh, jami attenberg... i ♥ the way you write.

this book is like richard scarry's busytown. you and the om narr are just looking down at a scene unfolding, and you are watching everyone be very very busy. edie is busy eating herself to death, her estranged husband richard is busy trying to re-enter the dating pool in his sixties, their children are busy resenting their father for leaving their mother in her illness, their grandchildren are busy preparing for their b'nai mitzvah, rachelle the perfec...more
Megan
This novel left me feeling empty and like it was a waste of time. I
very rarely feel this when reading novels, even ones I don't like. (In
fact sometimes reading a bad novel is a joy in itself--it can be kind
of sadistically fun to make fun of in your head, to read out bad
dialogue to people, etc.) I am still trying to wrap my head around why
I dislike it so much because she can write. There were a few observations about her character's actions and just being a human
in general that made smile and tha...more
oriana
I can't even begin to list all the interviews and articles and accolades Jami is getting for this book, which is so so so so great. I am sort of friends with her, by which I mean we're friends on Facebook and have chatted at publishing events, and she's always been really nice. But we know each other only glancingly, so while I was predisposed to enjoy this book, you can still take it at face value when I tell you that it was holy motherfucking incredibly good.

It even made me cry at one point (o...more
Emily
Okay, this is very un-PC but I'm just going to say it: Jews should read this book. Obviously non-Jews should also read this book, but I'm just saying, if you have ever been to a themed Bat Mitzvah with a choreographed dance routine, you will maybe get a slightly bigger kick out of this book.
tee
A tasty little book; a smorgasbord of neurosis and bite sized pieces of suburban melancholy. Edie is fat and I started the book looking forward to living vicariously through her snacking and binging but I also couldn't wait to find out why Edie was so huge. I soon realised that this book is more about how Edie's fat upsets others. Which really, is apt, because that is how it seems to be in the real world. People get fat, everyone concern trolls them and tells them how bad it is (or they side eye...more
Robert
This novel focuses on the food craze that has totally swept our nation by looking at our constant food obsession through the eyes of a single character, Edie. Six of the chapters focus on Edie’s weight, nearly all of which emphasizing the fact that Edie was not a small woman. She fantasizes about leaving her small children alone in a McDonald’s, so can go to the park and tear a McRib apart like an animal. And later she eats at a separate table away from her family, because she steals French frie...more
Melki
She was thinking about food, specifically a value-size package of kettle-baked sea salt potato chips and a plastic tub of deli onion dip she had purchased from the Jewel that afternoon, which were sitting downstairs in her kitchen, waiting for her like two friends who had come over for coffee and a little chitchat.

This book reminds me of Seinfeld. No. There is no shrinkage, and nary a puffy shirt to be seen. BUT...like that beloved TV show, the book is crowded with characters who, taken individu...more
Katie
I found this story of a quirky family with an overeating matriarch pretty ho-hum. I only kept reading it because it was so short and I think I knocked it out in about 2 hours. But it's totally forgettable and I'll probably forget I ever read it in about a week.

Edie, the matriarch, eats obsessively and is obese and therefore has massive health problems. Various members of her family try to help her to exercise and cut back on food, with varying degrees of obsessiveness (but not success). Her husb...more
Elizabeth
Edie has lost her way and it is very, v. complicated. She is addicted to food and after a lifetime of struggle her body is giving up. Then her husband of thirty-something years leaves her. Her family? So not feeling it.

Oh, boy- I loved the structure of this novel! LOVED IT. Told from different perspectives, we learn about Edie at different ages and fluctuating weights. We learn how family members cope with Edie's failing health. And we try to understand a husband who dares to leave a sick and st...more
Susana Olague Trapani
Oh, what's going on in The Middlesteins? No communication, that's for sure, because what better way to up dramatic tension than to not have your characters talk to one another? But when the entire book depends on that fact, and little to no self-awareness emerges as the characters delve into themselves and their options, it just makes for one frustrating read.

Edie Middlestein is eating herself to death. Her husband has left her, her kids make attempts to save her, and she remains indifferent to...more
ariel
i cant even, with this book. but i'll give it my best shot.

food was a wonderful place to hide.

this is the story of edie, a three-hundred-pound grandmother who is eating herself to death. it's also the story of her family... all of whom have their own share of problems and addictions and attitudes, all of whom are as real and fleshed out and vivid as the next. but it's edie herself who has been keeping me up at night. my heart aches for edie because i understand her. because i am her.

food was my...more
Cynthia
It’s YOUR fault

“The Middlesteins” is a fun book; it’s also a sad book. The Middlesteins are a middle class Jewish family living in Chicago. They’re only a generation away from escaping the holocaust and/or their working class roots. This is a three generation saga that traces the impact each generation has on the next. There are no bad guys; there are only tragedies or triumphs. Best of all no one escapes unscathed or unloved and at least one narrowly runs fast enough to flee being excoriated. T...more
Mandi
I don't think Attenberg is a good writer.

She gives her characters insight without believable development before the big realization. She tries to create complex characters with faults, but we never get to bond with the characters and love them despite their flaws. Then, never having gotten the chance to know anything deeper and more substantial about any of the characters, in the end, everyone is just incredibly unlikeable.

What really bothers me is that this is supposed to be a story about fami...more
Tami
Really, I'd give this two and a half stars, but I don't know how to do that.

This book came with stickered-on blurb of approval from Jonathan Franzen, and I thought to myself: Wow! Ok then!

We meet the matriarch of this family immediately. She is introduced to us as a child, and we learn that from the beginning, for Edie, food equals love. What follows are chapters focusing on alternating characters and which take place in alternating periods of history: Edie as a child, next Edie's daughter as an...more
MomIsReading
I expected something different from this book. From all the bits and pieces I read on various sites I thought this would be more of a humorous book. I found it quite depressing. The hardest part for me is that the author didn't make me understand why Edie had an eating disorder in the first place. Given that she had this before she married, it couldn't be blamed on her husband or her kids. I did like where she went with how her eating had such an effect on her husband, children, and grandchildre...more
Kata
I don't quite know how this happened, though I have my suspicions, I've been on a fat book kick. No. It's not exactly what you think... It's not that I've been sinking my literary teeth in fat ultra thick books. Nope. I just read two books (Middlesteins and Heft) recently centered around characters with weight issues. It struck me as odd that two fictional books released nearly at the same time had this issue as a plot premise and I read each in a different bemused way.

In Middlesteins, Edie and...more
Jennie
I really liked this one, even though it hurt my heart. I was raised by a compulsive overeater. It's a horrible thing to watch the person you love most murder themselves with food. I lived through the ups and downs, the fad diets, the workout regiments, the cheat days, the goal weights, the inevitable diabetes diagnosis and the heart surgery. The literal thick and thin.

I hadn't read anything by Attenberg. I was really engaged by her writing, even the parts I didn't like felt realistic to me. My...more
Edan
This book was structured in an unexpected and pleasing way, skipping across decades and perspectives to keep me entranced and entertained. I loved the humor, the deft compression of time, the sharp observations of contemporary east coast America (most of takes place in the Chicago-area but there was a section about New York that amazed and amazed), and the way we came to know each member of the Middlestein clan. It was also incredibly moving at the end: there were some really beautiful moments t...more
Nancy (NE)
Middlesteins was almost a five star for me. My feelings were reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge. Edie is also one of those characters who you somewhat dislike and yet understand and appreciate why she is who she is. The book is a portrait of a dysfunctional Jewish family in Chicago. Married thirty years, they are imploding upon themselves. Edie, the mom, is eating herself to death, food being the only thing left that makes her feel alive. Dad has lost hope and feels her vacillation of apathy vs ang...more
Emily
I can't give this five stars because I didn't LOVE love this book in the way that you cradle a good book in your heart for the rest of forever, but this is a truly marvelous, well-written, insightful, and compulsively readable novel. Centered around a multigenerational and painfully dysnfunctional family, this reminded me of Jonathan Franzen's Corrections, though Attenberg reveals much of the family's torment and conflict through food, eating, and both fat and thin bodies. It's razor sharp in it...more
Diane S.
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 genuine, 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 alw...more
Michelle
The reviews for this book were phenomenal-both professional ones and those from my most trusted reader friends. My expectations were sky high, which is probably why I didn’t love this.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very good book. The writing is terrific. If you’re into super dysfunctional families (though with wholly authentic and believable family members) and multiple viewpoints, this would no doubt appeal. There’s no real plot and it’s a bit bleak (to wit: “his happiest days were behind him the...more
Andrew
All the female characters are horrible, self-righteous bullies. All the male characters are spineless and boring. Not that there's anything wrong with that: but Attenberg never bothers to tell us why this is the case (with the exception of Robin, whose Explanatory Teenage Trauma fills all of 2 pages, but probably could have served as the basis of a much more interesting novel than this one).

Why doesn't Josh get even one section to tell his story? There are strong suggestions throughout the book...more
Ed
Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins has been getting a bit of literary buzz, but perhaps not unlike the obese protagonist - Edie Middlestein - no matter how much of this book I consumed, I was left unsatisfied and wanting more. This is a multi-perspective story. Many of the chapters are Edie herself through various stages of her life, broken up my alternate takes from various family members and friends. It is certainly a case of unreliable narrators as each person has their own angle re: themselve...more
Suzanne
This is a disturbing novel. Many readers look at it as the story of three generations of a dysfunctial family. If you look at 3 generations of any family, I'm sure you will find several oddballs. I believe this novel is speaking to us, the American people. Every day we are bombarded with ads about sinfully delicious food and diets which are sinlessly delicious. There are reality shows like "The Biggest Loser" and "Runway Model". How many cooking shows are on tv each day? As a nation, we are obse...more
Paula
The clever and well-written Middlesteins is a dark and funny story about a dysfunctional Jewish family in the Chicago area. Told from a variety of perspectives, it is about a family attempting to cope with the Middlestein mother/wife who is killing herself by overeating, and dealing with the Middlestein father/husband who has decided to leave his wife of 40 years. It is all about family dynamics and personal conflict with astute observations about the middle class milieu. I heard the book review...more
Susan
There are lots of novels and memoirs about dysfunctional families, and this one adds another novel to the pile. This one, however, is not like any I've read before.

Each chapter about Edie, an overweight woman who eats massive amounts to try to fill that hole in her soul, is labeled with her current weight. As with so many radically overweight or underweight people, it is hard to see beyond her eating and her size. Her family doesn't seem to. And her family has enough problems without taking on h...more
Sheryl Sorrentino
This is one part book review and too many parts personal observations about what this story meant to me. First, the book review. For the most part, I thought this was a brilliant work. I found it quite engaging and hard to put down. While I agree with several other reviewers who perceived an “emptiness” due to the lack of character development, I didn't fault the author for not delving into Edie’s deep psychological motivations for eating as much as she did, or her family’s reasons for reacting...more
Elaine
Aug 03, 2013 Elaine rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
Was surprised to see I didn't review this. What an odd unlikeable book. Yes, it's well written, but ugh, what uncomfortable reading. Attenberg seems to dislike all her subjects, a particularly loathsome family of suburban Jews, but she especially hates women. All the women are especially unlikeable and emotionally petty. And the tortured relationship to food is just overdone, and frankly conflicted - I felt like the author had food issues floating too close to the surface. Edie is huge, grotesqu...more
Catherine
I loved Attenberg's painfully blunt, omniscient narrator, revealing all those inner thoughts that we never share. (The one chapter written from a different p.o.v. didn't work for me.)

I loved the foreshadowing and straight-up revelation of characters' fates.

It took me a while to warm up to the characters, but this was such a quick read (in both length and style) that I stuck with them and felt rewarded.

I love Karen's comparison to Richard Scarry's Busytown and Melki's mention of Seinfeld. The M...more
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Kindle Book Club ...: Discussion, The Middlesteins, Reading In Progress 2 19 Jun 03, 2013 08:39AM  
Critical Era: Jami Attenberg Rescheduled! 2 11 Dec 17, 2012 07:43PM  
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I'm the author of Instant Love, The Kept Man, and The Melting Season, and a fourth book, The Middlesteins, will be out sometime in 2012. I blog at whatever-whenever.net, and you can find me on twitter too! (@jamiattenberg, of course.)
My essays and criticism have appeared in a number of places, including The New York Times, New York, Print, Salon, and Nylon, as well as the anthologies Alone in the...more
More about Jami Attenberg...
The Kept Man The Melting Season Instant Love: Fiction Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant : Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone Armchair / Shotgun No 4

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“...and wasn't life full of layers and nuances, colored all kinds of shades of gray, and the way you felt about something when you were twenty or thirty or forty was not how you would feel about something when you were fifty or sixty or seventy---if only he could explain to her that regret can come at any time in your life, when you least expect it, and then you are stuck with it forever.” 10 likes
“...if she had known just a few months before, during more innocent times, that she would feel that way for the rest of her life....which is to say conflicted, she would have treasured those unaware, nonjudgmental, preadolescent moments more thoroughly. (Oh, to be eleven again!) Because once you know, once you really know how the world works, you can't unknow it.” 7 likes
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