The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

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

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