In a near future fraught with violent anti-Semitism, a family Passover focuses on patricide.
Julian Jacobson is surely among the worst fathers in literary history, raising his children with vitriol, shame, and aggression, treating their mother no better. He tried to poison his adoring daughter by giving her food she was allergic to and relentlessly abused his sons in truly evil ways. Somehow the kids got through it, damaged as they may be. Each gets a chunk of this book devoted to his or her perspective; a penultimate chapter full of twists and revelations lets us into their mother’s head. Moses, the oldest, is an actor with a reality show called The JacobSONS! about his life with wife Pandora and their triplets and twins, all boys. Edith is a promiscuous and unhappy professor of ethics at Emory, currently up on charges of sexual harassment. At 38, Jacob is the youngest and arguably the most alienated. He lives in Berlin with a German boyfriend named Dietrich and has documented the family nightmare in childhood journals he calls My Manifest of Meanness and later in his plays, the first of which shares the title of this novel. When the siblings learn their mother has lung cancer and has only a short time to live, they are certain their father is making her last months on Earth miserable and could even be intentionally hastening her death, since he’s been after her money all along. Though they sort of hate each other, the three plan a family get-together at Moses’ house in Los Angeles—nominally for Passover, but actually to kill their dad, which is going to be tricky since Seder at The JacobSONS! will be broadcast live. In Levinson’s (Antonia Lively Breaks the Silence, 2013) dystopian 2022, the state of Israel is no more, having been carved up by Syria, Iran, and Lebanon after a war during which the United States stood aside. Now 4 million refugees have relocated to the U.S., provoking an intense xenophobic reaction and constant domestic terrorism. There’s a lot to admire here, and a bit to be annoyed with, too—Levinson is a habitual overexplainer and loves nothing like a good back story.
Imaginative, intelligent, cluttered, long on black humor, and just long.