In “The Middlesteins” Jamie Attenberg takes a current problem in the United States — obesity — and makes it more real than the statistics and news stories that appear every day.
Edie Middlestein loves to eat, and eat, and eat, and eat. For her, food is the sort of happiness that never goes away, nor can ever be taken away. But her love for food becomes a happiness only for herself, and a plague for those who surround her.
Try as they might, Edie’s daughter, Robin, and her daughter-in-law, Rachelle, cannot rid Edie of her obsession. But this book delves much deeper than the issues involved with someone who is basically eating herself to death. This book is also about family and relationships. The fragile things that sometimes hold a family together, or sometimes tear it apart. After years of marriage, Edie’s husband, Richard, divorces her, unable to cure her of her need to eat. He wants to be able to live, and not die alongside his sick wife.
For a novel that deals with such real and relevant fare, it does pack a punch and gives a look inside a family where obesity is more than a national trend. But Attenberg treats the subject matter with a gentle, yet honest, wit. She transitions smoothly from past to present, showing vignettes of Edie as a child struggling with her weight, to having to surgery as an older woman. Edie can often come across as hard to like. Knowingly she is killing herself by eating so much, but doesn’t seem as ashamed or scared of dying because of her weight as one would think she should be. She often comes across as a very weak character. But Edie is not supposed to be perfect or a hero. She is wholly real, faults and hopes and all.