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The Middlesteins
Photo courtesy of Michael Sharkey

Edie Middlestein is fat. She always has been, thanks to a hefty bone structure and a heftier appetite--for warm rye bread at her father’s card table, for fries pilfered from her children’s Happy Meals, for endless packages of cookies in her suburban Chicago kitchen.

Edie is also the subject of Jami Attenberg’s brilliant new novel, The Middlesteins, a tenderly crafted family saga and deft meditation on the love-hate relationship we have with food.

After all, the problems of excess and denial are bigger than just Edie, who is forced to watch her family crumble as she ascends into dangerously obese territory. Her husband, Richard, leaves after 30 years of marriage, sending their bitter daughter, Robin, into a tailspin. Son Benny can’t control his status-obsessed wife, Rachelle, who worries equally about Edie’s health and what everyone will think at their twins’ impending b’nai mitzvah. And through it all, Edie can’t seem to stop eating.

The Middlesteins are in equal parts warm and funny, neurotic and disquieting, cruel and redemptive--in short, entirely human and perfectly drawn.

This book-club-ready pick is Attenberg’s fourth novel, but clearly her breakout--a brilliantly messy family portrait that feels like Jonathan Franzen fattened up on bagels.

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