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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2012-07-02
- Reviewer: Staff
A panoply of neurotic characters fills Attenberg’s multigenerational novel about a Midwestern Jewish family. Shifting points of view tell the story of the breakup and aftermath of Edie and Richard Middlestein’s nearly 40-year marriage as Edie slowly eats herself to death. Richard and his brilliant but demanding and ever larger wife raised two children. Robin is intense and hostile; Benny lives an idyll with his wife, Rachelle, in the Chicago suburbs, sharing a joint after putting their twins to bed at night. Much of Rachelle’s time is spent assuring that the twins’ b’nai mitzvah extravaganza goes off without a hitch. When complications surrounding Edie’s diabetes precipitate Richard’s filing for divorce, the already tightly wound Rachelle becomes obsessed with the family’s physical and moral health. Soon the affable Benny’s hair is falling out in clumps. Attenberg (Instant Love) makes her characters’ thoughts—Richard and Benny in particular—seem utterly real, and her wry, observational humor often hits sideways rather than head-on. Edie’s overeating, described with great sensuality, will resonate, with only the obstreperousness of all three generations of Middlestein women (granddaughter Emily included) marring this wonderfully messy and layered family portrait. Agent: Douglas Stewart, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Oct. 23)
Hunger becomes a hefty problem
Richard Middlestein showed his future wife incredible compassion on their first date, a setup. Rather than take her out to a showy dinner, Richard sat beside Edie at her sick father’s bedside, laughing and entertaining the pair over pizza in the hospital.
But now Edie is the one who’s sick, facing debilitating diabetes and other problems that accompany her obesity. Richard can’t handle it. Edie has been nitpicking him for years, and quite frankly, he can’t bear the idea of living the rest of his life without sex. He leaves his wife and endures his children’s wrath as Edie’s downward health spiral continues.
Robin is the baby of the family, and though her father dotes on her, she is withdrawn, dark and moody. It’s been years since she has shared things with her mother—in fact, not since the death of one of Robin’s close friends at age 15. That separation endures 16 years later, but as Edie’s health deteriorates, Robin is by her mother’s side.