Edie and Richard Middlestein have raised two children, Robin and Benny, to adulthood. From the outside in, theirs may look like an ideal --- or at least pleasant --- life. However, Edie, who has been an enthusiastic eater since childhood, is now obese, weighing over 300 pounds. Despite having an appointment for a second surgery to correct a diabetes-caused arterial problem in her leg, and despite repeated warnings from her doctor that her corpulent condition is life-threatening, Edie changes nothing. She doesn't exercise, and constantly and ravenously eats gigantic portions.
"I absolutely devoured THE MIDDLESTEINS, reading the entire thing compulsively in one night. I became absorbed by the characters' dilemmas and by their unexpected connections, and I marveled at author Jami Attenberg's attention to detail and her lyrical way with words."
Robin Middlestein reluctantly returns home to the suburbs she grew up in to check on her mother. Edie picks her up at the train station. As she rides, Robin wishes she had not decided to squander her half day off as a teacher by spending it with her mother. She would prefer to be jogging or drinking with her neighbor, Daniel. Then Edie pulls the car in front of a movie theater and drops a bombshell on her daughter.
"Your father has left me. He's had enough."
"This is a joke," Robin replies.
She looks at her mother, who is sobbing and shaking. Robin knows Edie did not treat her husband well. Still, how can he leave Edie when she is so obviously close to death? Robin believes her mother's situation is so terrible that she, Edie's daughter, has somehow gained the love she no longer feels for her father. That love feels heavy in her heart. Where can she redirect it?
Robin's brother Benny, a gentle man with a daily pot-smoking habit, has been helping Edie, but this heartbreak is beyond what he can handle. And his wife Rachelle is also concerned about Edie's condition. But Rachelle is a stay-at-home mom with a house to care for and twin children to prepare for their b'nai mitzvah. She is too busy to approach her mother-in-law about her health. However, when Benny asks his wife to speak to his mother, he begins sobbing. She can't say no. Soon Rachelle is obsessed with Edie's health. She surreptitiously follows her mother-in-law, groaning as Edie drives from one fast food restaurant to another, tossing out empty food bags at each establishment and landing at last at a Chinese restaurant.
The story's timeline dips back and pushes forward, adding depth and intrigue without confusing readers with its nonlinear form. This is a black comedy and also a tragedy told by a gifted storyteller who somehow manages to make the story of the Middlesteins, revolving around the central figure of the insatiable Edie, both universal and unique. I absolutely devoured THE MIDDLESTEINS, reading the entire thing compulsively in one night. I became absorbed by the characters' dilemmas and by their unexpected connections, and I marveled at author Jami Attenberg's attention to detail and her lyrical way with words.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on October 26, 2012