The Middlesteins

The Middlesteins

by Jami Attenberg

Gail Reid (01/30/13): Edie Middlestein, a retired lawyer in her sixties, weighs 350 pounds. All of her life, food has provided her with more comfort and solace than anything else. A child of Eastern European immigrants, Edie was raised to believe that food was love and providing food was what her impovershed family could do for her.

At an earlier age, she was always heavy but at 6 feet tall, she carried it well enough to attract her husband Richard. Flash forward 40 years and Edie is facing multiple diabetic surgeries. Richard has had enough, walks out, and proceeds with divorce. The family is in turmoil. Daughter-in-law Rachelle, busy planning the perfect B'nai Mitzvot for her twins, spearheads a campaign to save Edie. Making her walk daily, she enlists Edie's single daughter Robin as well. Her own husband Benny is clueless how to help his mother and repair his parents' marriage.

Through all of this, Edie continues to eat obsessively and attracts the romantic attention of the chef in her favorite Asian restaurant who loves to cook for her. What the novel does well is to demonstrate how any behavior taken to extreme is destructive in some way. Rachelle obsesses over every calorie and feeds her growing children meals of kale, beets and nothing else. Daughter Robin likes her wine just a bit too much and uses it like Edie uses food. Son Benny relaxes every night for 20 years in his back yard wtih a joint.

Although this may seem like a grim novel, there is a good bit of humor in the Bar Mitzvah planning scenes, Richard's dating scene after a 40-year marriage and the general interactions of family life. The writing is particularly good and moves the narrative along smoothly. The plot line is original and conveys an important message.
Rating: ****

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