Monday, September 19, 2016

The Middlesteins by Janie Attenberg

The Middlesteins explores the life of a Jewish family in the suburbs of Chicago.  Richard and Edie Middlestein have lived there for more than thirty years.  Richard is a pharmacist; Edie a lawyer.  They have two children, Benny and Robin.  The family looks happy from the outside but things are not good and the couple split up.  The cause seems to be Edie's out of control eating.  She is massively obese and it is affecting her health.  The marriage hasn't been good for years and Richard has finally had enough.

Even though the children are grown they are affected by the breakup.  Benny is married himself with two children.  He married Rachelle, the kind of woman who lives to control her world and make everything perfect.  She is furious at Richard and determined that she can turn Edie's eating problem around by helping her make better eating choices and exercise.  She cuts Richard off entirely from their family.  Robin is a teacher but not really doing well.  She drinks too much and has never had a lasting relationship.  She has just met someone new and wonders if it could work out.

Edie is furious.  She hasn't loved Richard for years and her constant picking and nagging is as much a factor as her obesity.  She isn't sure why she eats so much but at the end of the day is determined to live her life as she wants, even if that means eating everything in sight.  Her success as a lawyer seems diametrically opposed to her lack of control in her personal life.

Attenberg has written a saga of a family that has dissolved.  Everyone seems surprised when older couples divorce but once the children are grown, why would someone stay if there is no joy in their daily life?  She explores the role of personal responsibility, of what parents owe their children and children owe their parents and whether love can be found even as we age.  This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction and those interested in family relationships.

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