The Middlesteins

The Middlesteins

by Jami Attenburg, Molly Ringwald

For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago: two children, a nice house in the Chicago suburbs, ample employment, generous friends. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie's enormous girth. She's obsessed with food—thinking about it, eating… See more details below


For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago: two children, a nice house in the Chicago suburbs, ample employment, generous friends. 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.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…Attenberg writes with restraint and just a dash of bitterness. The result is a story that repeatedly tosses off little bursts of wisdom that catch you off guard…[She] is superb at mocking the cliches of middle-class life by giving them the slightest turn to make people suddenly real and wholly sympathetic…Attenberg's success lies in miniatures; she mutes even the few potential moments of conflict, focusing instead on the inaudible repercussions. But with a wit that never mocks and a tenderness that never gushes, she renders this family's ordinary tragedies as something surprisingly affecting.
—Ron Charles
Publishers Weekly
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)
Library Journal
Edie Middlestein is digging her grave with her teeth, as the saying goes. Previously a successful Chicago attorney, Edie has sought comfort in food all her life; she craves fattening treats the way an alcoholic craves booze. Now that she is over 60 and over 300 pounds, her partners have pretty much forced early retirement on her. Edie is also facing a second surgery on her legs. Her husband, Richard, has had enough. He leaves his wife after nearly 40 years of marriage, to the shock of their easygoing son, Benny, and the anger of their difficult daughter, Robin. Despite this sad scenario, Attenberg (The Kept Man) finds ample comic moments in this wry tale about an unraveling marriage. She has a great ear for dialog, and the novel is perfectly paced. Her characters are all believable, if not always sympathetic, though Edie's romance with a Chinese restaurant owner seems improbable. VERDICT Attenberg seamlessly weaves comedy and tragedy in this warm and engaging family saga of love and loss.—Leslie Patterson, Rehoboth, MA
Library Journal - Audio
Edie Middlestein has just been diagnosed with diabetes and may need bypass surgery. Her love affair with food seems to have trumped her love of anything else, and she will do nothing to improve her condition. Her husband, Richard, unable to change his headstrong wife, leaves her and files for divorce. Richard and Edie's adult children, Robin and Benny, are horrified with both parents and work hard to find a new normal for the family. Attenberg (The Melting Season) captures a realistic time of crisis and adjustment through the eyes of each of her characters. VERDICT While flashback and the nonlinear story are common literary devices, these elements seem somewhat superfluous in this story. Narration by Molly Ringwald lacks the fire that might be expected in this emotional tale. Still, readers of general fiction will enjoy this book. Recommended. ["Attenberg seamlessly weaves comedy and tragedy in this warm and engaging family saga of love and loss," read the review of the New York Times best-selling Grand Central hc, LJ 7/12.—Ed.]—Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Providence
Kirkus Reviews
From Attenberg (The Melting Season, 2010, etc.), the deeply satisfying story of a Chicago family coming apart at the seams and weaving together at the same time. Former lawyer Edie Middlestein has always been a large presence, brilliant as a lawyer, loving as a mother, shrewish as a wife. Since early childhood, food has been her private if not secret passion. The novel is organized according to Edie's fluctuations in weight, and the descriptions of her sensual joy in the gluttony that may be killing her are often mouthwatering. Sixty-ish Edie is obese and ravaged by diabetes. When her pharmacist husband, Richard, leaves her shortly before she's scheduled for an operation, Edie's children are outraged. Thirty-one-year-old teacher Robin is a fearful near alcoholic who has avoided intimacy since a disastrous experience in high school. Ironically, her new self-proclaimed hatred of her father opens her to the possibility of a relationship with her geeky neighbor Daniel, a gentle soul with a hidden but strong spine, not unlike Robin's older brother Benny. Benny is happily married to Rachelle, a woman of fierce protectiveness who initially denies Richard all access to his grandchildren to punish him for his desertion. Is Richard a heartless, selfish man, or is he correct that Edie left him years before he left her? A little of both. All these characters feel more than one emotion at a time, and all are more than they first seem. Edie is an overbearing matriarch in her family, but a lovable saint to the owner of her favorite Chinese restaurant. Richard is a schlemiel, except that he is capable of real love. While the novel focuses intensely on each member of the family, it also offers a panoramic, more broadly humorous, verging-on-caricature view of the Midwestern Jewish suburbia in which the Middlesteins are immersed, from the shopping centers to the synagogues. But as the Middlesteins and their friends move back and forth in time, their lives take on increasing depth individually and together. A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.

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Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.20(d)

What People are saying about this

J. Courtney Sullivan
Jami Attenberg has a gift for making you sympathize with each and every one of her characters. The result is a rich family portrait that's sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, and gripping all the way through. The Middlesteins are every bit as complex and contradictory as your family, or mine. I'm still thinking about them long after I turned the final page. (J. Courtney Sullivan, author of Commencement and Maine)
Lauren Groff
Jami Attenberg has written a brilliant novel in The Middlesteins, as blazing, ferocious, and great-hearted as anything I've read. For anyone who has ever known heartbreak, the terrible love of a family, or a passion so deep you think it'll kill you, The Middlesteins will blow you away. (Lauren Groff, New York Times bestselling author of The Monsters of Templeton)
Stefan Merrill Block
The Middlesteins, the novel, is great literature: in lucid and lustrous prose, Jami Attenberg tells a flawlessly paced, profound story that is equally intimate and universal. And the Middlesteins, the family, are great company: warm, tragic, funny and so deeply, complexly, entirely human that I could almost swear I grew up down the street from them. I read Attenberg's book as voraciously as Edie Middlestein downs her surreptitious feasts, and now I'm insatiable for more from this brilliant author. (Stefan Merrill Block, author of The Storm at the Door and The Story of Forgetting)
Aryn Kyle
Jami Attenberg writes with startling honesty and haunting compassion about characters caught between desire and obligation. Blunt and beautifully written, The Middlesteins peels back the layers of one family's struggle to hold together even as its members fall apart, examining the commitments and betrayals, the guilt and grievances, the wounds and recoveries. Told with great hope and humor, this is a novel about fear and forgiveness, blame and acceptance, the roles we yearn to escape, and the bonds that prove unbreakable. It's a wonderful book. (Aryn Kyle, author of The God of Animals)
Jonathan Franzen
The Middlesteins had me from its very first pages, but it wasn't until its final pages that I fully appreciated the range of Attenberg's sympathy and the artistry of her storytelling. (Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom)
Kate Christensen
The Middlesteins is a truly original American novel, at once topical and universally timeless. Jami Attenberg has created a Midwestern Jewish family who are quintessentially familiar but fiercely, mordantly idiosyncratic. This novel will make you laugh, cry, cringe in recognition, and crave lamb-cumin noodles. This is a stunningly wonderful book. (Kate Christensen, author of The Astral and The Great Man)
Jenna Blum
I couldn't help absolutely devouring The Middlesteins. This smorgasbord of a book about food, family, love, sex, and loss is like the Jewish The Corrections, yet menschier and with a heart—and it's hilarious! (Jenna Blum, author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers)

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