Interview With Jami Attenberg, Author of The Middlesteins
I recently spoke with the lovely and talented Jami Attenberg, acclaimed author of Instant Love, The Kept Man, The Melting season and The Middlesteins, the story of a suburban dysfuncional jewish family. Edie Middlestein, the family’s larger-than-life overweight matriarch is a food addict who is eating herself to death. The novel is a funny, tragic, tender and always juicy portrayal of extreme behaviours and the messy attempts we make to take care to the people we love.
What books are on your nightstand?
Right now I’m reading Long Division by Kiese Laymon and The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson. I just finished this lovely debut by Catherine Lacey called Nobody is Ever Missing.
Three writers who influenced your prose?
I always cite Raymond Carver (for the minimalism), Grace Paley (for the voice) and Flannery O’Connor (for the explosiveness), but I could probably talk for days about the many great writers who have influenced me in my life.
How much time do you devote to writing everyday?
When I’m actually working on a book, the first draft in particular, I set myself on a schedule of writing 1000 words a day. However long it takes to write those 1000 words is how I long work that day. Usually I can get that done in a morning.
How did it all started with The Middlesteins? Which part did you start writing first?
I started writing the second chapter first. (Though of course I thought it was the first chapter at the time.) I heard the voice of someone complaining about having to take care of their sick mother and it went from there.
The Middlesteins is sometimes tragic , sometimes tender and extremely ironic. Do you think that there is always a funny side? Is this the only way to rescue ourselves from the tragedies of life?
I am the kind of person who laughs her way through the tears, and this book reflects that sentiment.
Can you tell us something about your next novel, Saint Mazie.
It’s inspired by the life of a real person: Mazie Phillips. A writer named Joseph Mitchell originally wrote about her in 1940 in the pages of The New Yorker. (The essay later appeared in the classic collection of Mitchell’s essays, Up in the Old Hotel.) She ran a movie theater for twenty years in lower Manhattan, through the Depression and beyond, and led a very unconventional existence. She was a boozy, bawdy broad, but also worked tirelessly to help the homeless. She felt like a real hero to me.