The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
I am a foodie. Some days I worry my love of all things edible will lead me down a very unhealthy and deadly path. Other days I ignore the voice in my head as I eat the piece of double fudge chocolate cake with peanut butter icing. While reading The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, I was constantly reminded of the voice telling me to be careful, because the novel centers on Edie Middlestein, her obsession with food, and the results of said addiction.
Edie has always been a big girl. Her parents treated food as both a reward system and something that could be used as a soothing tool. As a child and into her teen years, she could never get filled up, and routinely snuck to the fridge in the middle of the night to devour whatever she could find.
Her obsession has taken on a life of its own. Her husband of 30 years, Richard, decides to divorce her because he can no longer put up with Edie, both for her weight, which exceeds 300 pounds, and for the lack of affection she seems to have for him. After Richard leaves, their children, Robin and Benny, along with Benny’s wife, Rachelle, are left to take it upon themselves to see Edie doesn’t eat herself into an early grave. They try to intervene, but worry they’re too late; that Edie has passed the point of caring.
While the bulk of the story focuses on Edie and how her life evolved into a constant revolving door of food and what she was going to eat next, you’re also given great insight into other characters. At first Richard is made out to be an evil man who abandons his wife when she needs him most (which is how his children take him leaving), but I found him to be a man who is facing his mortality and wants to see if there’s a piece of him that can still enjoy life. I also took great fun in his encounter with the “half-hooker.”
Robin tries hard to ignore everything going on around her, including her family’s issues, but is smacked in the face with it when her father leaves. I never felt bad for her, but I understood her reasoning for wanting to get away from anything that reminded her of her family, including the Jewish religion.
A good book leaves you questioning something about yourself and your life, and I of course questioned whether I was headed down the same path as Edie. Were my thoughts of brownies and ice cream simply the cravings of a pregnant woman, or were they signs of something much deeper? Some who read this book could decide they need to make life changes; others could decide that will never happen to them. Either way, it’s a great story about how obsession and addiction, no matter to what, affects a person, their family, and everyone around them.
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