The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

middlesteinsMore often than not, I feel like I read books about people that I either love or hate — heroes (or anti-heroes) or villains. But in life it is rarely that easy.  People surprise you, disappoint you, make you frustrated, make you laugh, bore you, excite you — sometimes all in the same day.  No person is always valiant and even Saddam Hussein probably told a good joke once in a while.  So it is often those books that show people being human that really appeal to me.  In The Middlesteins, Jami Attenberg did just that.

The Middlesteins centers around Edie, the family matriarch who has always loved food.  Her lifelong memories are tied to liverwurst and rye bread, and she has been able to consume large quantities of food in one sitting since childhood.  As she goes from plump to fat to morbidly obese, she marries Richard, raises her children – Benny and Robin, and builds a mediocre career.  Her family and career did not meet the high expectations she had as a whip-smart child, and now around 60-years-old, food has become the consistent comfort in her disappointing life.  Edie, Benny, Robin, Richard, Benny’s wife Rachelle, and a few additional characters each contribute to this family’s narrative.  We see how Edie’s dissatisfaction and deteriorating health effect the family, and how they all deal with trauma and turmoil in their own way.

Just like the characters, the book is imperfect.  There are some editing and consistency issues and some of the plot devices feel a little forced, but I would recommend this book for anyone interested in character-driven novels about families.

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