Getting ready to read Tell Me How This Ends Well was sort of like being stranded in traffic without knowing why. I requested an early reviewers copy from LibraryThing.com, based on the description, and was alternately looking forward to the indulgence of reading it, and worrying about the dysfunction and ugliness it may contain. As it turned out, my instincts were right on. In Tell Me How This Ends Well, David Samuel Levinson has written a sharp, funny, and chaotic book. With substantial characters and a spectacular sense of setting, Levinson provides readers with a beautiful literary mess that’s impossible to leave unfinished.
The messiness is clearly intentional, and it comes mostly from the characters. This is a diverse and dysfunctional family, all with strong personalities and hidden (and not-so-hidden) personal agendas. It is a difficult balance between highlighting the individual quirks of each family member without entering into the absurd. To his credit, Levinson succeeds in drawing distinctive characters and relationships that nod towards Jewish stereotypes, but that never become caricatures. The book’s timeline, with most of the action taking place over the period of a few days, is tremendously helpful to its organization and flow. Although memories regularly intrude into the narrative, the tightness of the timing keeps everything focused on the plot.
Most of the book takes place in Los Angeles, in 2022, which creates a strange sense of reality. The book is set linguistically and technologically firmly in the present, but with just enough catastrophe in the next 5 years to make it look foreign. The result is a chilling combination of anti-Semitism and an isolationist United States meeting reality tv.
Tell Me How This Ends Well will likely appeal to the same readers as Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am. Levinson’s writing style is more narrative than Foer’s dialogue driven work, and at *only* 400 pages, it is a less intimidating commitment. The two books are complimentary, but a book club will probably find Levinson to be less divisive, while raising many of the same discussion points.