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Thewanderingjew

Thewanderingjew

This is not an optimistic tale.

The Middlesteins - Jami Attenberg

I found this to be a very sad story about a family falling apart because it was never bound too tightly, from the beginning. It seemed to be governed by anger and a lack of remorse for the perceived hurt they caused each other. They were cruel to each other, abusive emotionally and verbally, and on a rare occasion, physically. The book is very short, but it makes its point. The family seeks forgiveness from each other too late. Once the person dies, there is no way to find redemption. Sometimes, victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat and a new life can be enjoyed. Sometimes, the time for opportunity passes. When is the right time to exit from a situation that is too painful to continue to live with? Is there a right time? Who decides which one is the victim and which the victimizer? Is the victim ever partially responsible for their failures because of their own behavior? Who deserves punishment? The book was depressing because, even in the end, there was little to inspire hope for a better outcome in the future.

The Middlesteins are an unhappy family filled with dysfunctional members. Each of them takes a long time to discover their own purpose in life; each searches for happiness and finds it elusive. Each seems bent on finding unhappiness instead, always getting angry about something. Did any of them ever really love each other, truly care for each other? The only one who seemed to really care about any of the family, even those she disliked, was the daughter in law, Rachelle, though her concern was colored with resentment, and she was very self righteous and self absorbed. The grandchildren seemed alternately selfish and compassionate, bright and foolish. The author examined many different types of relationships. She got into the heads of the characters, in terms of their basic, selfish needs, but they were never truly developed as full human beings with hearts.

At the age of 60, Richard Middlestein, leaves his overweight, very sick, 300 pound wife, Edie, after 40 years of her abusive tongue and their mutually abusive lifestyle. She won’t do anything to improve her own health, gaining pound after pound, eating constantly with abandon, although the doctors have warned her that she is killing herself. The children are angry that their father has left their sick mother, regardless of his reasons. Rachelle does not want him in her children’s lives because of his selfishness and son Benny meekly acquiesces to his stronger spouse. Daughter Robin is like her mother, sharp tongued. She uses it to berate her father and argues often with the cast of characters. She is discontented. She, too, looks for faults in everything and everyone, and if it wasn’t for her boyfriend Daniel, she would never learn to find any happiness. Benny, Rachelle’s husband is Richard and Edie’s only son. He wants to disappear and not face the situation of his parent’s misery. He just wants to be one of the “good old guys” when it comes to his father and he knows confronting his mother about her lifestyle is futile. Rachelle spends her time planning their social lives, their B’nai Mitzvah for their children, Emily and Josh, shopping and attending to her cosmetic needs. Edie, about three hundred pounds near the end of her life, eats all day, but she a devoted parent and daughter. She is educated, was employed, and was quite respected for her ability, but she is eventually fired because her size makes others uncomfortable, something she neither fights nor tries to change by dieting.

These are unhappy, failed people if judged by accomplishments in life and interactions with others. They and their friends, all of the characters, major and minor, seem shallow and self centered, catty and judgmental, often with misplaced loyalties.

At first I thought the book was a parody on Jewish families, on Jewish life and Jewish guilt, but then I realized it was broader, in concept. It was about all relationships, how some go sour, some thrive, some never should be, it was about lots of narcissistic, self-serving, characters who never seemed to grow out of their childhoods, whose tongues often wagged with negative comments and who never developed beyond the stage of their id, or of immediate gratification.

The reader of this Hachette audio was quite good with the exception of her mispronunciation of a Yiddish expression.