Middlesteins (Attenberg) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Expansive heart and sly wit.... Throughout this poignant novel, the characters wrestle with two defining questions: What do we owe each other after a life together? What do we owe ourselves?
Abbe Wright, O Magazine


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.
Publishers Weekly


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


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. 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.... 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.
Kirkus Reviews




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