I first saw The Middlesteins one evening when I was cruising around Amazon, and was intrigued by the premise: A Jewish family whose matriarch is morbidly obese, and the family members’ ways of dealing with and reacting to that. I thought it would be full of fascinating characters, and engrossing in almost a voyeuristic way to see an entire family up-close. Plus, with any luck, it sounded like it could be funny in a quirky kind of way.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like it lived up to its potential. You know things are bad when you suddenly realize that you’re eight pages away from the end and think, “Wait … what? How can it almost be over? I’m still waiting for her to actually the story!”
The book felt like a series of set-ups that never went anywhere. The reason I was enjoying it at times, and liked it enough to finish it, was because I was intrigued when I was introduced to these characters and looked forward to see where the book led with all of them and their interactions with each other.
Well … turns out it didn’t lead much of anywhere. By the end of the book, I still didn’t have any clear picture of who Edie, the central character, was. The book showed her as lonely, angry, incredibly nasty to her husband, and gorging on huge amounts of food, but that was about it. I never knew what made her tick, what she was feeling deep down, or exactly why she was so angry or overate so much. I didn’t have much to reason to care about her or identify with her.
In the same way, nothing really happened to the other characters after they were introduced. I was particularly interested in the character of Edie’s daughter-in-law Rachelle, an ultra-controlling stay-at-home-mom who is planning an extravagent Mitzvah for her twins, appears to be smitten with their gay dance instructor, and even stalks Edie as she goes from restaurant to restaurant.
Well, once we’re introduced to Rachelle, that’s about it. The dance instructor is never mentioned again, Rachelle never does anything with what she observed when she followed Edie, we never see any more insight into her character, and nothing happens with her plot-wise. Moving on to someone one.
The other problem with this book is that there didn’t seem to be any real point. If there was any theme or “message” to this book, it would probably be “Life’s a Bitch and Then You Die.” There was no real hope, improvement, or redemption for any of the characters. Actually, there is one hopeful, slightly touching moment that appears literally on the last page, with absolutely nothing that led up to it previously, so it’s hard to care.
Even though I have a lot of negative things to say about this book, and I wouldn’t really recommend it, I still wouldn’t say it was a horrible book. I liked it enough to keep reading (there are many novels that I’ve discarded during the first ten pages), and there was something engrossing and intriguing about it.
I just wish it had been more developed.