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The Middlesteins

3.44  ·  Rating details ·  19,912 ratings  ·  2,362 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
ebook, 201 pages
Published October 23rd 2012 by Grand Central Publishing (first published January 1st 2012)
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Molly Sort of. They both have a central figure of an obese, food-obsessed mother. And family relationships are a key component in both. But that's about all…moreSort of. They both have a central figure of an obese, food-obsessed mother. And family relationships are a key component in both. But that's about all they have in common. What's Eating Gilbert Grape has Gilbert as the main character (in all his dreamy young Johnny Depp goodness... sigh...). This book, in contrast, tells the narratives of the whole family--three generations of Middlesteins.(less)

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Jun 07, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 a ...more
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2012
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
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Jul 03, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: i-own
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
Diane S ☔
May 16, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Food, everything it can and does mean to a person, from comfort, love, relaxation, well being, to in the case of this novel, a woman who can't stop eating. 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 a ...more
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. that beloved TV show, the book is crowded with characters who, taken individu
Dec 16, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Mar 12, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
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
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m slightly surprised by how much I loved this. On the face of it it’s a fairly conventional dysfunctional family novel à la Jonathan Franzen, set among a Jewish family in Chicago. The main drama is provided by the mother, Edie, who seems to be slowly eating herself to death: she gorges herself on snacks and fast food several times a day even though she’s facing a third major surgery for her diabetes. Her husband of 40 years, Richard, ditched her in her time of need, leaving children Robin and ...more
Jul 24, 2016 rated it liked it
This initially reminded me of my favorite type of indie movie where you feel like anything can happen/nothing happens/nothing needs to happen. "Life" is the story. You learn about each character from their own POV and others' POVs (including a chapter in the first-person collective) often repeating the same situation from different perspectives. It's centered around the matriarch of the Middlesteins, Edie, who is addicted to food and who has always equated food with love. We learn about each fam ...more
Mar 25, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle-deals
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
reading is my hustle
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
Dec 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: post-peace-corps
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
Skyler Autumn
Jul 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
2 Stars

I'm so sad! I don't want to give Jami Attenberg such a low rating as she is the writer of one of my most favourite books ever but this was a swing and a miss for me.

The Middlesteins follow a family dealing with the repercussions of their mother's eating disorder as she slowly kills herself with her food intake. The topic of their Mother's increased weight gain is tip toed around which is probably where some of my irritation towards this book comes from because I find the lets cause tur
Elyse  Walters
I'm baffled over all the good reviews. (a quick-fast-read)

Unlikeable characters!
Unrealistic characters!
A little boring--
A little bit of a downer--
Nothing hilarious--
Nothing gripping--
No masterpiece--

Edie is a morbidly obese woman: Her relationship with food contributes to her health and marriage problems.

Richard is a Jewish-middle class white male -emotionally stunted.

All other characters in the book are lacking substantial character and relationship development. (better to read Franzen o
Sep 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 26, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, novels
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
Jul 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 22, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: popular-fiction
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
Oct 20, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Larry H
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
There's a lot of truth to the adage, "Food is life." Food can nourish, nurture, soothe, bring people together, even keep problems temporarily at bay. Those are just a few reasons that so many cultures and religions have festive meals as part of their traditions. (I've joked through the years during Jewish holidays that nearly every one is built around the tenet, "They tried to kill us, we defeated them, let's eat.")

For Edie Middlestein, food comforts, heals, brings her pleasure, and satisfies he
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
Jul 02, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Jul 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
The Middlesteins may not be the story of your family, but I believe that Jami Attenberg has hit upon the simple truth that affects families and individuals across the U.S.

"She knew she loved eat, that her heart and soul felt full when she felt full."

The book follows Edie through her life as she intertwines food and love to the point where her weight and health are the catalyst for the fracturing of her family. Revealing Edie's life through her eyes, the viewpoint of each of her family members an
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really interesting book- there is such a lot to like about it. I love the way the narrator jumps around in time, telling us how things went for a character long after the time frame of the story.

I love the description of the family, in all its dysfunctional state. The affection between them all shines through. I especially like the tender description of the son sitting up all night before his mother's operation to make sure she didn't ignore the 'nil by mouth' instruction. His sensitivity is s
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The Literati: Which character did you relate to most? 3 6 Aug 14, 2014 06:08PM  
Kindle Book Club ...: June 2013 Discussion, The Middlesteins, Reading In Progress 2 20 Jun 03, 2013 06:39PM  
Critical Era: Jami Attenberg Rescheduled! 2 11 Dec 18, 2012 05:43AM  
Books on the Nigh...: Epsidoe #205 10 200 Dec 12, 2012 01:08AM  

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I'm the author of Instant Love, The Kept Man, The Melting Season, The Middlesteins, and Saint Mazie. My sixth book, All Grown Up, came out March 2017 and my latest novel, All This Could Be Yours, is forthcoming in October 2019. You can find me on twitter @jamiattenberg. I'm originally from the Chicago area, lived in New York City for twenty years, and am now happily a New Orleans resident. ...more

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