Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Middlesteins - Attenberg

Edie Middlestein is a somewhat normal Jewish woman from a Chicago suburb. Faced with a less than stellar upbringing, Edie has learned to eat to comfort herself. In fact, she has been doing so for many years and her weight has blossomed as a result, to the point that her life is in danger.

The Middlesteins, by Jani Attenberg, is the story of Edie's family and how they react and deal with their mother/grandmother/wife's weight and choices around food.

Richard Middlestein, her husband, has given up and decides to leave Edie in the hopes of finding love/sex before he dies. Edie's daughter and son try to support and stick by her, while dealing with their own demons, though Robin tries to help her mother change while Benny essentially lets others deal with it. And Robin, Edie's perfectionist daughter-in-law, attacks the "issue" with a neurotic need to fix what is broken. Edie's grandchildren are preteens and just beginning to realize what others are experiencing and how that affects them, specifically her granddaughter.

Interestingly, some readers loved this book. Some hated it. Most had an opinion on how the author treats the issue of obesity, responding appropriately to an obese person's struggles or not. I felt the book was less about the obesity issue and more about the issue of how a family is affected by its heritage, its predecessors.  I was more interested in why Edie was obese, given her upbringing, and why her family members reacted the ways they did. One could understand Edie's use of food to complete herself, and her son's inclination to leave others deal with her rather than face the situation himself, as her daughter did. Attenberg never addresses the husband's past and, I feel, leaves out a key piece of why his reaction was to just walk away, rather than fight for Edie's life (let alone why he would have chosen to marry Edie in the first place).

Well written, entertaining, but not a particularly moving or exciting read in my opinion. Much like The Particular Likeness of Lemon Cake, it just sort of...hung there until it ended (though The Middlesteins did have a climax and ending, just not one that made any difference to me).

 2/5- Just okay.  Choose with extreme prejudice.