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Photo: © Lisa Whiteman
Jami Attenberg’s work has appeared in Salon, Nylon, Print, Pindeldyboz, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Visit her at jamiattenberg.com.
One Big Mac, one large fries, two Happy Meals, one McRib sandwich, one Diet Coke, two orange juices, one chocolate shake, one apple pie, three chocolate chip cookies. A light lunch for Edie — whose weight will puff up to 350 pounds — ostensibly to be shared with her two kids, but she is plotting to scarf the whole McRib herself because it is “a new sandwich, and how often did a new sandwich come along?” So the years go by, with Edie consuming sugar, fat, and salt while berating her husband, who eventually leaves to seek some senior love and sex and decency. Flash to his judgmental children, the prying friends, and always his wife’s black eyes in his grandchildren’s punims. Meet The Middlesteins, the dysfunctional Jewish family in Jami Attenberg’s eponymous novel, which you will devour in two sittings like I did. There is no portion control with this book.
Here, Attenberg chats with Penguin Random House about the inspiration for her novel and evoking that feeling of wanting to pick up the phone and call your mom.
PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE:In a scene from Edie’s childhood you write, “Food was made of love, and love was made of food.” What inspired you to write about love and overeating as an overarching theme?
Jami Attenberg: In our society people often talk about “eating their emotions” as both a joke and a part of their reality. It’s inescapable, and it is definitely a part of my past, present, and future. I hadn’t written about it before, and it felt like it was time.
PRH: Which character do you find the most sympathetic? Which was most complicated or painful to write?
JA: Oh, I love them all so much! I don’t know if any of them are wholly sympathetic, though I suppose Kenneth is probably the most likeable. He was also the most complicated to write because I had to get to know him better, and the rest of the characters seemed very present in my mind. Their motivations were all very obvious to me, but Kenneth was a beautiful mystery that unfolded before me.
PRH:There is so much quiet passion in this novel, for food, for second chances, within parent/child relationships. What message do you hope readers take away?
JA: It would be fantastic if this book had some sort of positive impact on family communications. I am always a fan of books, movies, TV shows, what have you, that make you want to pick up your phone and call your mom. At the very least I just hope readers enjoy the ride.
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