Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Middlesteins…would you like fries with that?

Another 2012 release that finally crawled to the top of my reading list, The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg, left me unsettled. It isn’t classified as psychological fiction, but part of me feels like it should be.
The story focuses on the Middlestein family—Edie, Richard, Robin, and Benny. Another member of the family lurks in the shadows…food. Edie, mother to Benny and Robin, is steadily eating herself to death and has finally hit the point when her life is in jeopardy because of her eating habits. We first meet Edie as a child. Her parents, both Russian immigrants, shower her with love and food. As Attenberg tells us in in the voice of Edie’s mother, “Food was made of love, and love was made of food,” which helps to explain Edie’s upbringing. As the story progresses, we become privy to Edie’s habits, the views of her family, and the other primary conflict of the story—Richard’s departure when Edie’s health begins to fail. Richard becomes a villain to his family in many ways, but we are able to hear his side of the story when no one else will.
Attenberg’s ability to create realistic, complex characters is a gift. She gives the past, present, and some future glimpses of each character, which works to draw you in emotionally. For a book so full of food, conflict, and emotion, it left me feeling empty. The book was fantastic, but the emotion it evoked was akin to sadness. I was left pondering how much I truly know about the people I love and how we all manage our private lives without our loved ones’ knowledge.

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