Review (Better Late Than Never): The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg

the middle steins

I feel like a ninny.  Two months ago I read one of the best books I’ve read in years and I neglected to write about it.  I’ve thought about the review several times but got distracted, I suppose. However, the book has not left my mind.  It was the kind of relatable read that left a long-lasting impression on me.

Then today I came across this fantastic review in the New York Times, and not only was I reminded that I missed an opportunity to promote something I genuinely loved, but I’m also thrilled for its author, Jami Attenberg.  I’ve actually tweeted my affection for her writing publicly several times and she has responded every single time with sincere gratitude.

I was lucky to receive a galley of the book late this summer because my contact said I would appreciate the story.  At first, I didn’t know what she meant until I started to read the book.  I don’t think she had a clue just HOW much I would relate to it. First of all, it’s about a Jewish family.  I’m Jewish. From talk about a B’nai Mitzvah to discussions (and struggles) of observance, I’ve been there. Secondly, it involves a family whose parents divorce after many years. So did mine. Third, it involves food obsessions, lots of them ,and lots of food.  Chinese food, Jewish food.  Eating at all times of day, including late at night, eating alone, eating publicly.  I grew up in a home full of obsessions and it led to a disorder of my own as a teenager. Lastly, the story involves parents dating after divorce.  Children having to care for their aging parents.  Children hoosing one parent over another after the divorce.  While these are not topics I typically discuss here on this blog, I have experienced them all.  I relish writers who delve into them so delicately, allowing me to both laugh and cry and helping me realize I’m not alone, whether it’s fiction or not.

The book is about the family matriarch, Edie, who weighs 300 pounds; Richard, her husband, who leaves her despite her ill health; Robin, their daughter, a teacher who has her own relationship and religion issues; and Benny, their son, who is married to a slightly psychotic woman and has two demanding children.

The book is written in the past and present, weaving in and out of time, to bring the reader into full comprehension of why things are the way they are. For example, here is a passage: As an adult, Robin found herself behaving exactly the same as her mother without even knowing it, always alone at meals, eating, reading, alone, while Benny married young and his doting wife, at home with the kids, had a hot, non-fast-food-related meal on the table every night. 

I’m not going to fully review the book now, I’m too late, and the New York Times review is pretty perfect. Go read it. It’s written by Julie Orringer, author of another novel I read last year and loved, The Invisible Bridge.  I’m just here to tell you to pick up a copy of the book TODAY and make it your next read. Then go tweet the author – I guarantee you’ll get a response.

Disclosure: I was sent a galley of the book by the publisher before its release date but all opinions are my own.


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  1. Was looking for something to read – thanks for this! Def. gonna check it out.

  2. I’ve wanted to read this for a while – will add to the TBR lsit!

  3. Sounds like an amazing book – should really make my 2013 resolution to read more!

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