*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*
Title: The Immortalists
Author: Chloe Benjamin
Publisher: G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date: January 9, 2018
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
Benjamin’s The Immortalists is quite a captivating tale that combines together topics of family, love, coming of age, crime, loss, and mysticism in to one neat package. It is the story of the Gold children, each told the date of their death by a mysterious fortune teller, and left to lead their lives haunted by this information. Whether or not this information holds any truth or bearing on reality is to be discovered. Benjamin weaves this peculiar tale through the individual perspectives of each child–her structure (one story at a time, decidedly separate from the stories that come before and after) reflecting so vividly the familial relationships throughout the story. Although we, the readers, are privy to the characters’ insights, they themselves are often ignorant to information and emotions held by their own family members. In this way, the story is often frustrating as all the reader wants is for these characters to put differences aside and to open up to one another. If only they could and perhaps much tragedy would be forgotten. As much as it is frustrating, it truly speaks to reality and genuine family dynamics–families often face a dissonance when held to particular standards or expectations, but beneath all layers of hurt and regret, there lies unwavering love and loyalty.
Benjamin’s tale, at its root, speaks of the human experience: of imperfection, mistakes, diverged paths, craving for belonging and truth, need for truth, desire for purpose, etc. The author doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable, bringing these characters and their stories to life in a visceral and tangible way. The characters are so real, I felt as though I could reach out and touch them. Benjamin’s style is full of life, despite dwelling so much on the topic of death. It’s a compelling topic to address, this notion of knowing the date of one’s own death. It’s both a blessing and a curse, as The Immortalists so intimately explores.
My only criticism, and the reason I didn’t give it 5 stars on Goodreads, is that this story didn’t fully immerse me in the consuming emotional experience that I think it has the potential to offer. A book becomes profound and even life-changing for me (one to add to the favourites list) if I really experience that emotional and moving connection with the story and the characters. While this book was beautiful and so vividly real, there was something missing that I can’t quite place my finger on. It made me want to cry, but something stopped me. For a book so consumingly full of loss and love, I wasn’t able to completely lose myself to its story. This is not hugely detrimental, by any means. It is an excellent story, by an incredibly talented author. It’s one that I highly recommend, without a doubt.