Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is there hope for the Middlesteins?

The Middlesteins
by Jami Attenberg

Edie Middlestein is a wife, mother, grandmother, lawyer, Jew, retiree, and an addict—not necessarily in that order. Edie is addicted to food, and her story starts not at a certain age, but at a specific weight: “Edie, 62 pounds.” Her life is recounted not in passing years, but in gaining pounds. But the bulk of this tale is relating Edie’s later adulthood. Edie’s children, Robin and Benny, are grown. Even her grandchildren are entering their teen years. At this point, Edie is morbidly obese—well over 300 pounds—sick, and her husband of decades, Richard, has just left her.

In the pages of this brief novel, Jami Attenberg has drawn a detailed character study of a woman and a family in crisis. As you may have gathered, this is a character-driven, rather than plot-driven tale. It’s less a matter of what’s going to happen—because I think we all know what’s going to happen—than whether it’s too late for these people. Is change possible? Is happiness possible?

Attenberg’s characters are finely-drawn, both sympathetic and deeply flawed in almost all cases. The issues with which they deal have the messy complexity of real life, without tidy narrative structures. Is it reprehensible to leave your sick wife? Yes, yes it is. But is it unreasonable to seek happiness? No it is not. These are the sort of issues wrestled with by the members of the dysfunctional Middlestein family.

There are no easy answers, but there insights into human nature along the way. I cared about these people. I hoped for them. In the end, that’s all you can do.

No comments:

Post a Comment