Review: The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

Review: The Immortalists by Chloe BenjaminThe Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 346
Published by G.P. Putnam's Sons on January 9, 2018
Genres: Contemporary Fiction

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?
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.
The 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; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.
A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

What would you do if you knew the date your death?

The Immortalists has a great premise, and was promising addition to my to read list. It ended up being a very underwhelming read for me for a few reasons.

The premise (bold above) gets shoved aside quickly for four short stories about the Gold siblings. The book starts with the young siblings visiting a woman who can tell them the day that they will die. Each sibling gets a different response that shapes how they view life and death.

The stories were cliche and obvious in their endings (and the characters). Simon is gay and living in San Francisco in the 80s. He contracts AIDS and dies young. Klara is a magician who has concerns with showmanship. She commits suicide on the night of her big Vegas debut. Daniel, a military doctor and married to a woman who does not want children, searches for the death teller and his life ends in a shoot out with the FBI agent. Varya’s story is odd. She’s a researcher focusing on the aging process, and as predicted will die at age 88 but we don’t see her death.

The story felt a little misguided and really did nothing to engage the responsibility of living with knowledge of the future. The directions were predictable. The writing was okay, but was filled with this weird sexual lanugage that didn’t quite weave into the story. The first sentence describes Varya as a thirteen year old girl just hitting puberty with a “patch of fur between her legs” and the section of Simon’s story is filled with almost raunchy descriptions of gentiles and sexual desire. It just felt strangely out of place and like Benjamin was trying to hard to fit into this “literary fiction” category.

Neither of those passages really contributed to the intellectual or emotional value of the story, and was a distraction to me while reading. There are some pieces in Daniel’s story where he begins to question religion and how it has shaped his life, but it ultimately does nothing to enhance the story any further.

This story had a lot of promise, but I would not recommend it to readers looking for the magical and lyrical type of “literary fiction”.

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