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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

This book focuses on Edie Middlestein, her family and the way they deal with her obesity. After thirty years of marriage her husband Richard walks out, surprising everyone especially their children Robin and Benny. While Richard tries dating, his daughter struggles with her own commitment issues and Benny tries to deal with his neurotic wife and their growing children. Richards actions have caused an upset in his little world, but her children are so focused on what should happen that they don't stop to think what Edie wants.

On some levels this was a really easy book to read. Attenberg has a very lucid style of writing and it's fairly short at under three hundred pages. It's split down and covers the viewpoints of the all the major characters in various chapters. The past is revealed in chapters which document Edie's shifting weight over the years. At first, starting with Edie's mother carrying her overweight child up a flight of stairs felt like a strange way to begin the novel. It fits with the later digressions into history which pervade the novel and, in that sense, it's a very real novel. Recollections fit within the larger narrative and by the end you feel like you know these characters very well.

The relationships The Middlesteins depicts are flawed and real, which makes it difficult to like some of the characters. Edie herself is the most fascinating character with her love of food and her general attitudes to life. It makes the end of the novel both inevitable and sad. One thing I didn't like about the novel was the occasional authorial interruptions in the middle of the narrative that explained what happened to Robin etc in the future. I felt like I wanted to get to the end of the book before learning these things but, on the other hand, it fit within the sliding time frame of the novel perfectly.

This book was read as part of the 'New Author' reading challenge, details here.

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