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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comic and tragic tour de force set around a Jewish suburban family
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...
Published 23 months ago by Thomas Cunliffe

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2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious family, tedious book
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...
Published 17 months ago by Bantam Dave

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Food was a wonderful place to hide.', 16 April 2014
By 
L. H. Healy "Books are life, beauty and truth." (Cambridgeshire, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
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'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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A comic and tragic tour de force set around a Jewish suburban family, 25 May 2013
By 
Thomas Cunliffe "Committed to reading" (Sussex, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Trying to fill up the emptiness..., 25 Oct. 2012
By 
Jill Meyer (United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Hardcover)
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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2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious family, tedious book, 18 Nov. 2013
By 
Bantam Dave (Bradford, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
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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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4.0 out of 5 stars A big slice of life family drama, 10 Mar. 2013
By 
Denise4891 (Cheshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars OK holiday read..., 17 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Kindle Edition)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars weekend read, 6 Nov. 2013
By 
the lambanana "the lambanana" (liverpool) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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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2.0 out of 5 stars Felt as though I had read it before, 25 Jun. 2013
By 
Janie U (Kings Cliffe, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (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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2.0 out of 5 stars A dysfunctional family surrounded by food!, 20 Nov. 2013
By 
S. A. Broadhurst "SBroadhurst" (Worcester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Middlesteins, an American family, are the heart of this book. Mrs Middlestein has a problem with food, she is eating herself to death, Mr Middlestein who wants to leave her because he doesn't want to watch her eat herself to death and their children and grand children. I found the characters to be too much - they were over the top and too overbearing for me. It is one of those books you either like or dislike and I definitely disliked.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The middling story of The MIddlesteins, 4 May 2013
By 
Jood (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Middlesteins (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Described variously as "....a marvel", "an absolute pleasure" and "This gem of a book" I really cannot understand what these fairly well known reviewers saw in it that I didn't.

Edie Middlestein, the matriarch of a middle-class Jewish family, is eating herself to death; aged 59 she has reached 350 pounds, is (not surprisingly) suffering from various ailments (diabetes, heart problems etc) so it's only a matter of when, not if. Richard, her husband of over 30 years, has finally had enough and walks out of the marriage much to the astonishment and anger of his children Benny and Robin. It is Rachelle, Benny's wife who tries to take control of the situation, but it seems Edie doesn't really want to change her ways. Benny worries about his hair loss; Rachelle worries about Edie; their children Emily and Josh, thirteen-year old twins, worry about Hebrew school and the forthcoming B'Nai Mitzvah celebrations. Richard worries about finding love and having sex again, whilst Edie worries about her next food intake.

None of these characters is likeable, so it is difficult to feel any sympathy for any of them. I became irritated with the whole thing and couldn't wait to get to end, sticking with it only because I am reviewing it for Amazon Vine. Then, suddenly, three chapters from the end it became quite entertaining and amusing. It's almost as if the author finally woke up, or maybe she wrote those chapters first but didn't know how to get there from the beginning of the book.

A review from the Washington Post(reproduced on the back cover) states.."This is a story that tosses off little bursts of wisdom that catch you off guard"...where these "little bursts of wisdom" are, I don't know as they didn't make themselves apparent to me. I had been so looking forward to reading this, basing my anticipation on the rave reviews; sadly for me, it didn't live up to them. Just don't get the hype at all.
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