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The Middlesteins: A Novel
by Jami Attenberg

Published: 2013-01
Library Binding : 303 pages
8 members reading this now
16 clubs reading this now
3 members have read this book
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, ...
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Introduction

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 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.

Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, October 2012: At five years old, Edie already tipped 62 pounds. Sheâ??d clearly â??surpassed luscious,â?? but how could her lioness of a mother--or her father, whoâ??d starved all the way from Ukraine to Chicago, and so also felt â??carnal, primal, about foodâ??--resist feeding her? They all believed that â??food was made of love â?¦ and they could never deny themselves a bit of anything they desired.â?? So Edie indulged for decades, expanding finally to 350 pounds, discovering (when Richard, her husband of 30 years, gave up trying to stop her and moved out) that food is â??a wonderful place to hide.â?? Her adult childrenâ??s extravagant worry--mounting with each diabetic surgery and undistracted by her grandchildrenâ??s choreographed, chocolate fountained bâ??nai mitzvah preparations--do nothing to dampen Edieâ??s enthusiasm to consume, and Attenberg describes Edieâ??s meals with a sensual relish that could verge on repulsive if it didnâ??t so readily trigger our own desires. The same story told with less compassionate humor could have easily been distasteful, but The Middlesteins has a light, tragicomic touch that lends it unexpectedly poignant heft. â??Mari Malcolm

Excerpt

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Discussion Questions

1. Why can’t Edie divorce herself from her relationship with food? What makes her eat? When the story begins, her health is far gone. Do you think she could have learned to curb her appetite? If so, when?

2. Do you believe Richard made the right decision, breaking off his marriage with Edie? Why or why not? Did their subsequent dates with other people change your opinion? Did their children’s reactions?

3. At the beginning of the novel, Rachelle gives the impression her marriage with Benny is democratic. “At any given moment, she could never be sure who was in control in their relationship” (p. 31). How does this change over the course of the novel? Do you think Rachelle was right to pressure Benny to talk to his parents, or do you think she should have spoken with each of them directly?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by ebach (see profile) 04/07/17

I didn't like this book but others in my book group did. The discussion was quite lively. So I suppose I should recommend it for a book groups.

 
by eblacker (see profile) 11/19/14

 
by Ajegeberg (see profile) 04/08/14

 
by StaceyB (see profile) 04/07/14

 
  "Really gets the conversation going"by barbararobins (see profile) 03/20/14

This is a book that really gets everyone talking. It generated a lot of emotion and opinions. A fun easy read with some great characters that sound just like people you know.

 
  "Not much optimism in this story!"by thewanderingjew (see profile) 03/19/14

I found this to be a very sad story about a family falling apart because it was never bound too tightly, from the beginning. It seemed to be governed by anger and a lack of remorse for the p... (read more)

 
  "Disappointing "by chaggers (see profile) 03/12/13

A very fast and unsatisfying read. Characters are flat, no background. A very cold look inside a family. Very blah.

 
  "A Real Downer"by Katha (see profile) 11/22/12

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