Just when you think you’re done reading about dysfunctional American families, a novel like The Middlesteins (Grand Central, $24.99) will come along and blow you away. Prepare to become deeply invested in the loves and longings of the eponymous, semi-chaotic Jewish clan from Chicago. With humor, warmth, and extraordinary compassion, Jami Attenberg introduces us to Edie, the tough, fierce matriarch who can’t stop eating; Richard, the husband who leaves her after forty years of marriage; and Robin and Benny, the adult children, distracted by troubles of their own. On every page, Attenberg proves there’s still a lot to say—about family, heartache, food—and so many fresh and funny ways to say it.
If you like your social novels big and sprawling and your comedies of manners razor-sharp and wickedly smart (or simply wicked), then spend your winter with The Heart Broke In (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28) by British writer James Meek. His list of subjects is dizzying and dazzling: Meek tackles the music industry, fame, celebrity, reality television, modern science, gene therapy, the IRA. His narrative ranges from London to Tanzania to Northern Ireland. It’s never too much, though, because everything is in the service of good old-fashioned storytelling. Meek’s writing is gripping, urgent, and often ludicrously funny. By the end, you will follow him anywhere.