The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on January 9, 2018
my rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Goodreads avg: 3.94
cw: homophobia, suicide, depictions of OCD/anxiety, animal cruelty
Spoiler-free review of an ARC provided by the publisher as part of a Goodreads giveaway.
If you were told the date of your death, how would it shape your present?
It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.
Their prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11, hoping to control fate; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
I am sitting down to write this review over a week after finishing The Immortalists and realizing I wrote myself very few notes to refer to, so I’m going to have to go off of what stands out to me the most from this book. I remember being struck by the writing right away. I found myself pulled into the story, having no idea where it would go. I tend to add books to my TBR and then completely forget what drew me to them. I avoid re-reading the blurb directly before diving in so that I have no expectations. What I’m saying is, I went into this book almost completely cold.
When Klara peels a dollar from inside someone’s ear or turns a ball into a lemon, she hopes not to deceive but to impart a different kind of knowledge, an expanded sense of possibility.
I found the format very interesting. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that you gain insight into the perspectives and motivations of each sibling in turn. I will say a little about my feelings regarding each character. I thought Simon’s section was precious and sad, I had a lot of emotions while reading it. Klara was maybe my favorite sibling, I felt really strongly for her and wished that I could reach into the book and save her from what was going on. Daniel’s section was the weakest, in my opinion, and I found it hardest to relate to him. I felt very strongly for Varya as well; it seemed to me that she and Klara were separate sides of the same coin and I related very solidly to different aspects of each of them.
Years later, a different therapist asked her exactly what she was afraid of. Varya was initially stumped, not because she didn’t know what she was afraid of but because it was harder to think of what she wasn’t.
Most of my experience reading the book involved me poring over the pages, trying to figure out what would happen next. There are a lot of surprises, and a lot of unanswered questions. If you want everything tied up neatly with a bow at the end, this may not be the book for you. Like I said above, Daniel’s section felt the most difficult to relate to. The book faltered a little for me there, which is mainly why it didn’t end up being a five-star read for me. Other than that, though, The Immortalists was kind of a masterpiece.
I recommend this book to people interested in familial relations, existential crises, and heartbreaking stories.
Other people speak of the ecstasy to be found in sex and the more complicated joy of parenthood, but for Varya, there is no greater pleasure than relief — the relief of realizing that what she fears does not exist. Even so, it’s temporary: a blustery, wind-swept pleasure, hysterical as laughter — What was I thinking? — followed by the slow erosion of that certainty, the creeping in of doubt, which requires another check in the rear view mirror, another shower, another doorknob cleaned.