WHY WOULD SOMEBODY CARRY ON EATING KNOWING IT IS KILLING THEM?
at being dragged grandfather.
Yet despite the sprawling cast it is Edie’s presence that gives The Middlesteins its centre. As the novel opens she weighs ‘‘ well over three hundred pounds’’ (135kg), and is about to undergo a second surgical intervention to reduce the chances of losing a leg from the circulatory problems associated with diabetes and obesity.
It is to Attenberg’s credit that her depiction of Edie manages to be at once painful and matter-of-fact. Unlike her portrait of the deeply unappealing Rachelle, whose campaign to save
their her mother-in-law’s life reveals a peculiarly contemporary hatred of the body and its mortality, the Edie we are given is simultaneously a person whose life has been ruined by her pathological relationship with food and a person of considerable talents whose intelligence and generosity transforms the life of Kenneth and his daughter Anna.
But beneath it all lies Edie’s eating, a compulsion she seems unable — and indeed unwilling — to control, and which seems as resistant to comprehension by her as it is to those around her. Even as she feels her life slipping away from her in a cascading series of professional and personal failures she seems unable to take control.
In this way Edie’s eating becomes a metaphor for the other failures that accumulate around us as we age. Yet it is also possible to detect within it the outline of another, deeper incomprehension about the source of her behaviour. Why would somebody carry on eating in the full knowledge it is killing them?
That question is posed explicitly in Michael Kimball’s slim, semi-autobiographical novel