I've read just about everything Jami Attenberg has written, and her newest novel is a masterpiece. The aging matriarch of a Chicago family is slowly eating herself to death, and the ways in which her children and relatives are dealing (or not dealing) with this are beautifully chronicled. Funnier than you'd think, and incredibly moving.— Jenn
“Just when you think you're done reading about dysfunctional American families, a novel like The Middlesteins comes along and blows you away. You will become deeply invested in the loves and longings of the eponymous, semi-chaotic Jewish clan from Chicago. There's Edie, the tough, fierce matriarch who can't stop eating; Richard, the husband who leaves her; and Robin and Benny, the adult children, distracted by troubles of their own. Attenberg proves that there is still much more left to say -- about family, heartache, and food -- and so many fresh and funny ways to say it.”
— Elizabeth Sher, Politics & Prose Books and Coffee Shop, Washington, DC
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.
Jami Attenberg is the author of a story collection, "Instant Love", and several novels, including "The Kept Man" and "The Melting Season". She has contributed essays and criticism to the "New York Times", "Print", "Nylon", "Time Out New York", "BookForum", "Nerve", and many other publications. She lives in New York and is originally from Chicago.
Praise for THE MIDDLESTEINS:
"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
"The Middlesteins is a tender, sad and funny look at a family and their mother. In fact, it's so readable, it's practically edible."
-Meg Wolitzer, NPR All Things Considered
"A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life."
-Kirkus (Starred Review)
"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
"With a wit that never mocks and a tenderness that never gushes, [Attenberg] renders this family's ordinary tragedies as something surprisingly affecting... Attenberg is superb at mocking the cliches of middle-class life by giving them the slightest turn to make people suddenly real and wholly sympathetic."
-Ron Charles, Washington Post
"[An] irresistible family portrait with piquant social commentary. Kinetic with hilarity and anguish, romance and fury, Attenberg's rapidly consumed yet nourishing novel anatomizes our insatiable hunger for love, meaning, and hope."
-Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
"The most authentic, endearing fictional portrait of a family in recent memory. . . There is no page of this novel without compassion, empathy, humor and restraint."
-Carmela Ciuraru, Dallas Morning News
"Attenberg 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. . . . [She] seamlessly weaves comedy and tragedy in this warm and engaging family saga of love and loss."
"[Attenberg's] characters' thoughts-Richard and Benny in particular-seem utterly real, and her wry, observational humor often hits sideways rather than head-on. . . [A] wonderfully messy and layered family portrait."
-Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"Jami Attenberg's comic-tragic portrait of The Middlesteins, a quirky midwestern Jewish family collapsing under burdens of betrayal, desire, and obesity, is delish."
-Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
"[A] remarkable feat.... Clear-eyed funny and truthful and deeply moving, especially in the killer-punch of its ending... Refined, economical and beautifully crafted."
-Stefan Fleischer, The Buffalo News
"Hugely enjoyable . . . Attenberg has the Tolstoyan gift for creating life on the page. Sometimes all she needs to capture a soul is a couple of sentences. But the pleasure she takes in these people goes beyond compassion . . . When Attenberg shows us the world through their eyes, they're not just interesting and sympathetic; they're a treat to be with. I didn't want a single one of their narratives to end. . . . The book isn't merely a delight to read: it lifts you up."
-Craig Seligman, Bloomberg News
"Vibrant . . . Thanks to Attenberg's sure-handed prose, this agile narrative swiftly moves around in time and perspectives . . . Attenberg evokes memorable moments of authentic sadness and tenderness while thoughtfully and comically examining the question of what we inherit from our families. In the case of the Middlesteins, it is many things, including their sometimes-enduring love for each other."
-S. Kirk Walsh, San Francisco Chronicle
"This gem of a book is swift, moving and brutally honest, but it has as family-centric moral at its heart: Without family, we are nothing."
-Susannah Cahalan, New York Post
"Funny, compassionate tragicomedy...notable for the nimble way it combines humor and pathos. Attenberg can be wry and sharply funny, but there's a tenderness in her portrayal of her outsized main character and her family."
-Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor
"A smart novel that tackles big issues."
-Chicago Tribune (Editor's Choice)
"The Middlesteins is a juicy, delicious, dark smorgasbörd of a novel."
-Royal Young, Interview Magazine
"Blazing, ferocious, and great-hearted. . . . THE MIDDLESTEINS will blow you away."
-Lauren Groff, author of Arcadia
"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
"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