Jami Attenberg's The Middlesteins has been getting a bit of literary buzz, but perhaps not unlike the obese protagonist - Edie Middlestein - no matter how much of this book I consumed, I was left unsatisfied and wanting more. (On a sidenote, it also seemed appropriate to post this review on Thanksgiving Eve!)
This is a multi-perspective story. Many
of the chapters are Edie herself through various stages of her life,
broken up my alternate takes from various family members and friends.
It is certainly a case of unreliable narrators as each person has their
own angle re: themselves and others, but one thing they all seem to
agree on is that everyone - themselves included - are all pretty darn
miserable, or perhaps it is just the stereotypical Jewish angst.
While the book was quite readable and an often interesting portrait of family where one member is killing herself, I just felt like there was little insight into why Edie became obese and while family and friends seem to voice genuine concern, it amounts to a whole lot of shoulder-shrugging. Ultimately, it seemed like everyone was more concerned about themselves than Edie, perhaps this self-centeredness was the point - but it made it hard to sympathize/empathize for any of them, even Edie. There also seemed to be a missed opportunity in addressing the ever-increasing trend of obesity in this country, even if it was done (preferably, for me) in a satiric way.
Style-wise, I was also jolted by the times where Attenberg would be in the middle of one of the character's stories and briefly detour and reveal what happens to them years or even decades down the road. I am not sure what it accomplishes, other than providing some closure that is unnecessary in the overall context of the story.
As mentioned above, this book has been getting a lot of praise. It caught my attention when it was one of Amazon's books of the month in October and it even landed at a lofty #8 on their best books of the year list (and that was for all books, not just fiction). So, as always the case, take this review with the proverbial grain of salt... but as a predominantly 4-star reviewer, I have been trying to become a bit more of a hardliner / bell-curve balancing of late, so while this would have been a "good" and "enjoyable enough" 3-stars in the past, I have to knock it down to 2-stars today.