New in Book Reviews: The Middlesteins

Author(s): Jami Attenberg

Publisher: Hachette Canada

  • Imprint: Grand Central Publishing

Date Published: October 23rd, 2012

Format: Hardcover

Source: Borrowed from a family friend.


For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein shared a solid family life together in the suburbs of Chicago. But now things are splintering apart, for one reason, it seems: Edie’s enormous girth. She’s obsessed with food–thinking about it, eating it–and if she doesn’t stop, she won’t have much longer to live.

When Richard abandons his wife, it is up to the next generation to take control. Robin, their schoolteacher daughter, is determined that her father pay for leaving Edie. Benny, an easy-going, pot-smoking family man, just wants to smooth things over. And Rachelle– a whippet thin perfectionist– is intent on saving her mother-in-law’s life, but this task proves even bigger than planning her twin children’s spectacular b’nai mitzvah party. Through it all, they wonder: do Edie’s devastating choices rest on her shoulders alone, or are others at fault, too?

With pitch-perfect prose, huge compassion, and sly humor, Jami Attenberg has given us an epic story of marriage, family, and obsession. The Middlesteins explores the hopes and heartbreaks of new and old love, the yearnings of Midwestern America, and our devastating, fascinating preoccupation with food.

Number of Days It Took to Read: 2


The cover is bright, fun and quirky. The little images of food that adorn the cover and the fact that the yellow background is really meant to be that of a fast food wrapper hints at the true nature of the book.

The Writing Score: 3 out of 5

Recommendation: Recommended for those who like short reads that are both amusing and heartbreaking at the same time.

Memorable or Forgettable: Memorable

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

To me the upcoming holiday season means that it’s that time of year again. By which I mean that it’s that time of year where my whole family gets together for what is sure to be a night of dysfunction, awkwardness and the occasional outburst. But still no matter how much we drive each other crazy when it comes down to it we’ve got one another’s back.

Family is also the main focus in the book, The Middlesteins, by Jami Attenberg. The book revolves around the common issue of what can you do when someone you love is doing something that is bad for them, and they will not stop. In this case Edith “Edie” is extremely obese and yet she continues to gorge on food causing her family to believe she may be in danger of diabetes or worse. To top it off her husband, Richard has left her as he cannot stand to see her like that in addition to no longer being able to endure her verbal abuse. Still Attenberg does a good job of writing such real characters that are flawed and at times even unsympathetic yet you cannot help but care about what happens to each one of them.

The book itself is divided into several chapters which give us a glimpse into the various members of the Middlestein family and how each one views Edie. The reader is able to see that everyone in the family including Edie has their own way of handling any problem. Additionally, every chapter that was about Edie’s past included her weight at the time, and the reader is able to see how different circumstances influence her weight. As a psychology major, I found it interesting to read about her past and how food went from being associated with love for Edie to being used to numb her feelings after the death of both her parents.

The writing took awhile to get used to as the timelines within one chapter tended to shift around a lot as it often went from telling the story in present time to giving the readers glimpses into a character’s future often with very little warning. Still it made for an enjoyable read because it was nice to know how some of the characters turned out.

Attenberg’s descriptions of people and food were also quite memorable. However, as a warning, readers should know that she is not afraid to include gross details and gruesome metaphors at times involving vivid descriptions of things like vomit and organs. As well, without spoiling anything, I will say that after reading her descriptions of Chinese food I will never look at it in the same way again.

Overall, at the heart of this book, this was a very realistic story about families and the miscommunication and misunderstandings that can influence them. I would definitely recommend people to give this one a chance.

– Linh

The opinions expressed in this review are my own; I did not receive any compensation in exchange for this review.

2 thoughts on “New in Book Reviews: The Middlesteins

    1. Thanks for commenting. Yeah I know the feeling, sometimes it’s nice to be able to take a break from all those long novels with a short one. Although this one is more quirky than comical.

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