His experience bears no resemblance to the tone of the Passover being planned in his new novel, Tell Me How This Ends Well (Hogarth; $27). In it, three grown siblings come together to plot the murder of their father, as they believe their long-abusive father is plotting against their mother.
The storyline, taking place in a futuristic 2022 with extensive expressions of anti-Semitism, has been defined as a satiric dark comedy.
“When I was writing the book, I had no idea that anti-Semitism was going to rise as quickly as it has,” says Levinson, on a speaking tour to explore his subject matter. “I’m looking forward to hearing what people think and sparking some discussions about anti-Semitism in America.”
The novel has set up the premise that Israel has been taken over by adjoining countries, forcing a mass movement by Jewish citizens to the United States.
Levinson believes the idea for the book developed from an essay he wrote to reflect upon facing discrimination in Texas. He says the characters in the fictional Jacobson family are an exaggerated conglomeration of dozens of Jewish families he has encountered over the years.
“I don’t know anyone who has ever expressed these kinds of feelings about a father, but I’m fascinated by crime and the psychology behind certain minds,” he says.
“I wanted to delve deeply into what it would be like to plot the murder of a parent. I took everything to the most extreme point I could take it, and the most extreme point is the death of another human being.
“There are lots of parallels in the family and the wider sphere of the world that I was hoping people would react to and get.”
Levinson’s earlier writing projects include the novel Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence and the story collection Most of Us Are Here Against Our Will. He also has been published in The New Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories, The Brooklyn Review and The Toronto Quarterly.
“My first memory of wanting to be a writer was when I was 8 years old,” Levinson says. “I wrote a little play called The Toy Box. There was a store in San Antonio called the Toy Box, and I wrote a play about what would happen if the toys there came to life. The PTA put it on, and I acted in it and directed it. Since then, that’s all I wanted to do.”
Levinson majored in English literature at Columbia University in New York before receiving his master’s degree in creative writing nearby at the New School for Social Research. He worked as a copy editor and proofreader before doing adjunct teaching at New York University and serving as a fellow in fiction at Emory University in Atlanta.
The Brooklyn resident, 47 and single, was a finalist in Write a House, a juried Detroit program that offers free homes to writers agreeing to restore dilapidated residences in the city. As part of the program, winners get training on how to complete repairs.
Having written about a family presented in some ways as beyond repair, Levinson expresses great interest in reaching the Jewish community in a way he has not done with other projects that have included the presence of Jewish characters.
“Readers have to understand that these kids in the story were abused beyond belief,” he says. “Emotional abuse actually happens, and that’s something else that my novel takes issue with.
“It’s been a family secret, and I think that’s partly why the kids have had enough. No one believes them.”
Levinson, while living and writing in Berlin for a couple of years, traveled to Vienna to look up family forebears. That experience infused sections of the novel.
“In some way, the holiday mirrors the Jacobsons’ experience,” says Levinson, finished with a draft for another work of fiction. “The siblings are trying to emancipate themselves from their father once and for all as the Jews tried to emancipate themselves from the Egyptians once and for all, and that brings layers to the book.
“I’ve never explored my own religion in such a way, and I really loved it. I’m going to continue to do that. It awakened my pride in being Jewish, and I’m reading a lot of Jewish books. Though I always was proud of being Jewish, this has galvanized me in ways I never thought it would.”
Suzanne Chessler Contributing Writer