The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is not a happy go lucky sort of novel. This is a fairly dark look at family relationships - well, family dysfunction is a more accurate description! Yet, despite the darkness, I found so much great stuff in this novel. Although there are aspects of this one that are bleak, I didn't find it to be overwhelmingly hopeless. It's a difficult balance but I think Jami Attenberg was able to balance the hopeless with the hopefulness that it needed to not be depressing. In retrospect, I find the balance that Attenberg finds here is part of the reason that I liked this novel so much.
Although I could see where the story was going throughout, I continued to cheer for them and hope that they'd break their negative patterns. I never felt ready to give up on them, despite the darkness they seemed to often bring on themselves. I kept hoping they'd overcome themselves and find a way in the world that was less dysfunctional. I didn't want to give up on them. These characters are so vibrant, so real, so FLAWED that I couldn't help but to want them to be better than they were. This is where this novel exceeded expectations for me - she made these difficult, flawed, at times ugly people real to me. Not book real but REAL real. The ability to do that is simply a gift!
Although the journey that Jami Attenberg takes you on isn't a happy one, it's well worth the time and effort. I got so much out of this novel. It made me think about family and how we treat one another. It gave me a new perspective on some of the family stuff that I've faced.
Attenberg has a way with words and brought up a number of observations that I found quite impactful. For example, I loved how one of the characters, Emily, learns that life can be horrible and painful and then has the realization that now that she knows what life can be, she can't unlearn it. The innocence and carefree-ness she experienced before was gone. Forever. I specifically remember that moment in my own life so seeing Attenberg write about it so eloquently was fascinating to me!
I was so taken with this book and am quite glad that I picked it up! Definitely a top 10 book for me this year!
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