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3.6 out of 5 stars47
3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'When she was engaged, she could make anything happen. When she was sad, and she had been so much lately, she could do nothing but eat.'

A moving, tender and sad story of a family deeply worried about matriarch Edie who is eating herself to death and won't stop. It is a touching portrayal of the situation, with daughter Robin, son Benny and his wife Rachelle, who are trying to manage their own lives and feel the need to help their mother too, and deal with the fact that their father has left their mother whilst she is in a bad way. As well as the children and daughter in law, we see glimpses of Edie's past, her parents, and there are also chapters following what husband Richard is up to.

It’s a fairly short novel, which I liked in one way, yet as I found myself drawn into the story, I also found myself wondering about getting to know them all a bit more than the extent of the pages would allow. I liked how the author changed viewpoints and played with the narrative, and she also sneaked in some future details which was interesting.

It's a sad and true fact that many people turn to food as a comfort and an escape, and don't realise how bad the reliance is until the situation has become very bad sometimes. Jami Attenberg takes this modern day issue and has written a very readable, insightful, honest, at times heartbreaking novel around it, with a formidable woman in Edie, one who is interesting to get to know, and who evidently isn't going to be easy to help.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I loved this book which explores the paradox of the desire to nourish our relatives and the adverse effects that can arise when this is done to excess. At the centre of the story is 60 year old Edie who has been retired from her work in a Chicago law firm because of her excessive weight. Edie is literally eating herself to death, suffering from severe diabetes and other related illnesses. Retirement has not brought her any sense of needing to get a grip on her eating habits, but rather the opposite: increased opportunities to gorge herself on sandwiches, crisps and biscuits. Soon she is a regular customer at a nearby Chinese restaurant, compounding her problem and her rapidly expanding girth leads her husband to file for divorce.

This situation provides the author Jamie Attenberg with an opportunity to explore the various lives of this Jewish suburban family, which he does to spectacularly entertaining effect. For Edie may be the pivot of this story, but the other family members are equally interesting characters and Attenberg provides a wealth of fascinating topics as the family and those around them go through various episodes of a both comic and tragic nature.

Attenburg has created a tour de force of an evocation of a troubled Jewish family. I loved the way that the situation they find themselves in is explored through the individual voices of each family member and I cannot think of a book which has given me such a varied reading experience. A fantastic novel well worth it's many 5 star reviews.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 October 2012
Jami Attenberg's new novel, "The Middlesteins", has already garnered so many well-written and perceptive reviews on Amazon/US that I don't think I can add much. But I did want to give it five stars and keep the rating up. Attenberg's book is a look, in part, at what makes people eat. Filling up the emptiness inside with massive amounts of food is one reason, but so is the thought of food as a tool of control over others.

The Middlesteins, parents Richard and Edie, children Robin and Benny, and grandchildren Emily and Josh, live in Chicago and its northwest suburbs. Various people are in the Middlestein universe but Edie is the glue that holds the family together. She has has a larger-than-life personality as well as a voracious appetite for food. After 40 years of marriage and with many physical ailments that can be traced directly to her appetite, her husband Richard admits he cannot live with her anymore and leaves her. The separation tears apart a family already made up of fragile personal alliances. Their children both understand their father's position in an impersonal way, but can't countenance the decision on a personal level. The year of Richard and Edie's separation also has many other pivotal events, like the twins' bat and bar mitzvah, and Robin moving from friendship to romance with her friend, Daniel.

What makes the Middlestein family "tick" can be directly traced to Edie's over eating. Everyone is consumed by the food Edie consumes, and fat or think, weight is the on-going issue in the family. Eating at Edie's favorite Chinese restaurant by members of her family can be viewed by the sizes of the portions consumed.

Jami Attenberg is an excellent writer and does what few novelists do and that is they sort of "telegraph" future plot points in advance. Several people die in the book, but the author sets up their deaths with the same diligence that she sets up their lives. What I wrote is not a "spoiler", because the author does it in her writing. This book is an excellent look at a family in crisis that doesn't always see itself as in crisis. All the characters are drawn with a nuanced eye; all are people that you - the reader - may know in real life.

As an aside, the novel that I was most reminded of when reading "The Middlesteins", was Tova Reich's novel, "Mara". Set in Brooklyn, it is the story of a completely dysfunctional family of Hasidic Jews that is very funny. One of the main characters is the wife and mother who sets off to eat everything she can. She's also trying to fill a void inside her and when her family locks her in a room in the family-owned nursing home, cutting off her binge, she is distraught. Because she knows she will just have to go on another eating binge to complete the process of filling herself up. The book originally published in the 1970's, has been reprinted and is still available.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Edie Middlestein is an unpleasant woman who just happens to be eating herself into an early grave, and there is nothing that anybody can say that will stop her. Her husband Richard, who has too often been the main recipient of her unpleasantness, decides to leave her rather than watch her slowly kill herself. Who can blame him? In the Middlestein family it seems like everybody does, as even his previously loving teenage grandchildren turn against him. That, in nutshell, is the story of this book. Not much else happens so there is probably enough material to make a decent enough short story or a novella; unfortunately The Middlesteins is not a short story, it is a 270 page book, a tedious 270 page book at that.

It soon became clear that The Middlesteins wasn't to my taste and under normal circumstances I would have given up on it after the first few chapters but, perhaps taking too much of the rave critical reviews, I always thought that it was bound to improve. It didn't. I would therefore suggest to anybody thinking of reading The Middlesteins that if they don't like it after 50 pages they should call it a day, because they almost certainly won't like it after 270 pages either.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Middlesteins has been described as `a Jewish Connections', and I can see why, though I did find it an easier and less introspective (and thankfully shorter!) read than Jonathan Franzen's `Great American Novel'.

The Middlesteins are a Jewish family from surburban Chicago. Matriarch Edie is eating herself into an early grave, much to the consternation, concern and disgust of her husband Richard, children Bennie and Robin and daughter-in-law Rachelle, and the story of the breakdown of her marriage and the resulting fall-out and recriminations is told from each of their perspectives. Edie is a loud, domineering woman with a huge appetite for life (amongst other things) and the physical and emotional shadow she casts over the less confident members of her family is quite unsettling to behold.

Each character is portrayed in a believable and humane way, their quirks and irritating habits (and there are lots of those) are real and convincing. Jami Attenberg obviously has a keen eye for human eccentricities and mannerisms and has put it to great use in this funny, endearing but ultimately quite sad novel.
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on 5 July 2015
Attenberg is an interesting writer. She grew up in New York and has spent a lot of time amongst the Jewish men who started opening small neighbourhood stores and in the course of time these little stores have grown into medium -sized corporations. Unfortunately these men have become so preoccupied with business that there is no family life. The mother has her circle of friends and the daughter has her friends. Unfortunately the daughter's friends are not the sort of people the father would his daughter to mix with but he is not around to give her the benefit of his experience of life. Its sounds a very up=to date situation and it is very good that Attenberg found a publisher willing to issue the novel in paperback otherwise with the current poor quality of paperback print the novel and its author would have been lost to the public. Attenberg is grappling with social problems and she will eventually an award-winning novel. .
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 6 November 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
A family portrait of an American dysfunctional family.

Food being at the heart of this particular American family.

Not at all predictable and one to recommend. A little sad in parts and not so in others.

Overall a pleasant read to recommend.
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VINE VOICEon 25 June 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book has amazing reviews and it is ok but, ultimately, I was a bit bored by it.
The story revolves around obesity which is a popular topic for fiction as the moment - I would recommend much better books being Heft by Liz Moore or Big Brother by Lionel Shriver.
Throughout the plot, the story moves back and forwards in time which works very well, the result being that the story flows.
My main problem with the book is the characters. They are far too extreme to be believeable, ending up becoming caricatures which distract from what could have been an interesting plot.
Clearly this book has been enjoyed by many people but I thought that the author was trying to hard to follow a formula used by others.
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on 17 October 2013
Fine for a holiday read...nothing to heavy, interesting characters however I would have liked to have gotten to know the main character a little more to understand her motives a little more.
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on 18 June 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, mainly because Jamie Attenberg really brought to life her characters. The book begins with Edie as a child and follows her and her family. Food is a central focus of the book, as it is in the lives of many Jewish families. In this novel the emphasis on food is not a positive one and (spoiler alert!) it is obvious from the outset that all is not going to end well for Edie. A more positive theme, despite some dysfunctional elements, is the family. Attenberg describes events in a warm and non-judgemental way which really grips the reader from the outset.
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