...no responsible reviewer would reveal how Levinson’s novel ends, only that it is fortified with surprises and, for all its slapstick props, including a dead peacock floating in a swimming pool and a Heimlich maneuver performed during a nationally televised seder, is unexpectedly affecting. For all the narrative pranks and pratfalls, the book is a moving account of the rich complexities of maternal love and the bewildering ecstasies of sibling rivalry.
...[a] flawed but largely successful novel ... Mr. Levinson’s book, part social commentary, part sitcom, is topical and timely. And even if its set-up can seem far-fetched, the intertwined worlds of family and the larger community are credible. In addition, even when the story lags — Mr. Levinson occasionally launches dead-end subplots — he is pretty funny, and acutely aware of the reality television aspect of his plot ... Consider this shtick with depth.
... it’s at its most compelling in passages where the siblings open up to one another about painful episodes from their shared past. It’s a shame then that his prose is so prolix — any serious meditations on abuse and the 'ethics' of murder are soon diluted by Levinson’s superficial attempts to satirise anti-Semitism, Jewish-Germanic relations and LA vanity.
The characters here are gargoylesque caricatures, and the jokes, knowing and hilarious, fly fast and furious in the black comic manner of Bruce Wagner, Howard Jacobson, and Bruce Jay Friedman. The story’s environment is claustrophobic, and in the book’s depiction of latter day anti-Semitism, Levinson leavens the humor with some chilling cautionary notes.
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.