Today on Tablet, Adam Kirsch, our reigning book brain, chimes in on The Middlesteins, a new book by Jami Attenberg that reflects both Jewish life and the way we live now in a food-obsessed culture.
The real mystery, then, is why she needs such a shelter so badly. Another novelist might have insisted on tracing Edie’s appetite to a single trauma; Attenberg, wisely and empathetically, realizes that the forces that shape our characters are more subtle and harder to pin down than that. Edie’s anger makes her eat and her weight makes her angry; by the time she is a teenager, she has become that familiar type, a “difficult person.” In one excruciating scene, we see Edie bickering with her family at a McDonald’s, stealing her children’s food and wishing she could run off and be alone with her McRib sandwich: “Suddenly she felt like an animal; she wanted to drag the sandwich somewhere, not anywhere in this McDonald’s, not a booth, not Playland, but to a park, a shrouded corner of the woods underneath shimmering tree branches, green, dark, and serene, and then, when she was certain she was completely alone, she wanted to tear that sandwich apart with her teeth.” No wonder her daughter, Robin, becomes a semi-alcoholic: Better to drink than to eat like that.
Check it out here.