Richard Middlestein showed his future wife incredible compassion on their first date, a setup. Rather than take her out to a showy dinner, Richard sat beside Edie at her sick father’s bedside, laughing and entertaining the pair over pizza in the hospital.

But now Edie is the one who’s sick, facing debilitating diabetes and other problems that accompany her obesity. Richard can’t handle it. Edie has been nitpicking him for years, and quite frankly, he can’t bear the idea of living the rest of his life without sex. He leaves his wife and endures his children’s wrath as Edie’s downward health spiral continues.

Robin is the baby of the family, and though her father dotes on her, she is withdrawn, dark and moody. It’s been years since she has shared things with her mother—in fact, not since the death of one of Robin’s close friends at age 15. That separation endures 16 years later, but as Edie’s health deteriorates, Robin is by her mother’s side.?That’s due, in part, to encouragement from her sister-in-law, Rachelle.

Rachelle married Benny Middlestein after he knocked her up in college. Despite their somewhat rushed entrance into marriage, the couple appears to have everything together. But Edie’s weight problems become a wedge between Rachelle and Benny as she obsesses over how to help her mother-in-law.

The Middlesteins are a normal, dysfunctional American family. Through their story, author Jami Attenberg (The Melting Season, The Kept Man, Instant Love) examines how families relate, the ways in which they shoulder each other’s burdens and whether they share responsibility for each other’s struggles. The result is a vivid, compelling portrait of human interaction.

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