Greg Levin’s Grand Debut
The debate around euthanasia has been alive and well for decades now with proponents on both sides of the equation, each one having a good set of arguments and principles to work with. There is certainly no single objective correct answer to such a complex idea as assisted suicide, and I believe it’s safe to say we won’t come to a general agreement in quite some time. Nevertheless, this doesn’t prevent us from coming together and exploring the concept from various angles, such as the rather curious one presented by Greg Levin in his debut novel, The Exit Man.
The plot for The Exit Man is a relatively simple one. We follow a man named Eli Edelmann who returns home to take over his dying father’s supply store business, and for a while everything goes according to the mundane plan. One day, however, Eli finds himself called upon by a family friend to help with a very delicate matter: suicide. The family friend in question is terminally-ill and wants Eli to help him put an end to the misery, which he ultimately does. The family, not ungrateful, pays Eli for his invaluable service, opening the doors onto a strange path no one could see themselves walking.
Opening his own underground euthanasia business, Eli starts to rake in more money than he could have ever anticipated and soon makes the acquaintance of a suicidal woman about to jump off a bridge after having murdered her rapist ex-fiancee. A true love is born as Eli helps her cover up the murder, but rather unsurprisingly, his new girlfriend turns out to be quite unpredictable with a few ideas of her own, especially concerning the expansion of his enterprise. Perhaps Eli’s world will indeed come crashing down on him much sooner than anyone could have predicted.
Humor in Morbidity
While the principal topic around which the novel revolves – assisted suicide – is certainly a very grim and serious matter, Levin brings a large dose of humour and levity into the equation with his dry wit and sarcastic sense of comedy. The story is quite irreverent and the author certainly isn’t afraid of offending anyone, facing the divisive aspects of the debate with head-on honesty. I feel he does a commendable job at creating a world which feels simultaneously ridiculous, but like it mirrors our own at the same time. This helps bring out the more comedic elements to the forefront while relegating the sombre nature of euthanasia into the background, but never far enough for us to lose sight of it.
The narrative largely thrives on all the humorous elements succeeding rather than putting the reader off, and for the most part I will admit they worked splendidly. There is a certain cadence to how we are guided through the plot, in the sense of the author consistently switching from macabre to entertaining, from jaw-droppingly ridiculous to laugh-out-loud funny. It takes a great amount of talent, in my opinion, to successfully dress up tragedy in the disguise of comedy as we see in The Exit Man.
Now, I do want to be fair to the author as it was his first novel, but in my opinion there were a few moments where the humour felt ever-so-slightly manufactured or forced and simply failed to make an impression on me. These moments were certainly few, and writing comedy is perhaps one of the most difficult literary tasks in my opinion, so I believe these small early stumbles are more than forgivable.
A Unique Line of Business
Setting the coloring characteristics of this novel aside, the plot itself has its own share of treasure to share with the reader. Eli makes for a wonderful protagonist as his sympathetic nature clashes with his line of work in many interesting ways. From the very start we are introduced to him as a man who, on the inside, really is compassionate towards the suffering of others and is looking for a way to help them; despite his unorthodox business we never doubt the sincerity of his intentions. This makes him quite relatable as a person facing a profound moral struggle and goes a long way towards building the coveted connection between reader and character which helps the former become much more invested in the plot.
A good part of the book is indeed dedicated to meditating on and discussing euthanasia while attempting to stay neutral as possible, and I believe the real beauty of it is how the author managed to weave his plot full of twists and turns into this real-world fabric. The ride doesn’t take too long to accelerate from a cruise into breakneck speed, but the key to its success is how believable and realistic it remains in its big picture, never losing sight of the central theme governing everything.
The Final Verdict
It may have been his first novel, but The Exit Man by Greg Levin shows little signs of it being a unique, captivating, humorous and profoundly introspective novel all at once. Levin’s ability to explore a sensitive topic while weaving his plot around it is simply remarkable, and I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who enjoys their humour dark as night.
Greg Levin is an American author hailing from New York with a few books under his belt, as well as being the recipient of the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Adult Fiction E-Book for his novel The Exit Man. He is also the author behind the Sick to Death and In Wolves’ Clothing.