A brief chat with author Jami Attenberg

November 7, 2012

Jami Attenberg is a writer pal of mine whom I interviewed many moons ago. However, now she has a new book, the fabulous and fabulously-reviewed The Middlesteinsso I wanted to ask her a few new questions. Jami reads this Thursday November 8 at The Book Cellar at 7 p.m., so come say hi, have a glass of wine and get your book signed!

What made you decide to set The Middlesteins in the Chicagoland area as opposed to New York or any of the other places you've lived?
I remember reading Olive Kitteridge, which is such a wonderful book, and thinking I wanted to write something like that about the suburbs of Chicago — it felt like a very complete look at a particular place, and I wanted to do the same for where I grew up. It took another year or so before I actually sat down to write The Middlesteins, but as soon as I started working on it, they physical landscape felt very clear in my mind, even though I hadn’t lived here in a long time.

How did you come up with the name "The Middlesteins"? What (if any) other names did you consider?
Initially, I wanted to call the book Sprawl, because I was thinking about the idea of suburban sprawl, and also this feeling of collapse and exhaustion. Maybe for the first month it was called that. The Middlesteins, to me, is a very obvious name. I can’t really recall the moment I thought of it — I should search through my correspondence! But it was a moment of clarity, I do recall that. The book started out being about a place, but it is the people in the community that anchor it together.

This book, your fourth novel, received a major push from your publisher. How do you think you'd be affected if this was your first novel as opposed to your fourth? Has there been any downside to the additional attention?
I don’t know how I would have handled it had it been my first, but I suspect I appreciate it more now, especially since my books have not done particularly well in the past. I have a lot gratitude to everyone around me, the people at my publishing house, my agent, and the press that have given the book coverage — and to the people who are buying it. I have perspective; I know this can all go away in a second. People can be excited about you and your work one minute, and ignore you at a party a week later. In the end, you know who your friends are, and what matters the most is actually being able to do your work. I must admit along the way I have developed an exceptional bullsh*t radar.

And there is no downside to the additional attention, Claire. I’m happy to have people reading my books!

What do you always make sure to do when you're back home in Chicago?
Can’t wait to eat! I fantasize about the decadence. It’s going to be either pizza or Hot Doug’s. (Or both.)