"And what if I change?" It seems impossible that Varya's future is already inside her like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the win
"And what if I change?" It seems impossible that Varya's future is already inside her like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the wings. "Then you'd be special. 'Cause most people don't."
2 1/2 stars. I have a lot of mixed feelings about The Immortalists. Though there were parts I enjoyed, I was left feeling underwhelmed and like I'd recommend many other similar books before recommending this one.
You should be aware that this is literary fiction and focuses in depth on the lives of four siblings. The enchanting premise that seems to promise elements of magical realism and the fantastical is a little misleading, as there is very little about prophecies and destiny. Though, personally, this didn't bother me so much. I really enjoy reading about families and the dynamics between them, especially when spread over many years, and I found it interesting to explore how each sibling deals with knowing the date of their death.
It begins with the four siblings visiting a psychic as children, near their home in 1960s New York City. This woman tells them - Simon, Klara, Daniel and Varya - the exact date of their deaths. The book then goes on to consider how this information will affect their lives and the way they live them. The sci-fi/fantasy aspects are waved aside quickly. While there are some brief mentions of fate vs. self-fulfilling prophecy, the author never attempts to offer answers.
The characters here didn't quite grab me like so many did in the aforementioned books. Some moments that should have been fraught with emotion seemed obvious and manipulative - (view spoiler)[Simon is a gay man, fated to die young, sleeping around in San Francisco in the 1980s; no points for guessing what happens to him. (hide spoiler)] The first two stories - that of Simon and Klara - have very little in the way of family dynamics, as Simon's story mostly consists of dancing in a San Francisco gay bar and meeting his new beau, and Klara's takes her to Vegas to be a magician. Secondary characters roam into these first two perspectives, but none of them make much of an impact.
The second two stories are better. Daniel becomes a doctor in the military and his job leads him to discover something about the psychic who predicted the siblings' deaths. Though my favourite was the last - Varya's. She is now a longevity scientist doing experiments on monkeys. I thought her perspective was well-researched and thought-provoking, and it was easy to imagine someone becoming obsessed with aging when they know their own expiration date.
The writing is just okay, which maybe contributes to making the characters less memorable. Benjamin also occasionally falls prey to the - increasingly more common in modern fiction - random sexual references. This is something that always baffles me and it's not easy to explain because it's not about sex, exactly. It's like there'll be a scene where a character is washing the dishes and the author will suddenly mention his penis hanging limp between his legs. His penis has nothing to do with anything in that scene - the poor dude is just washing some dishes! - and yet, there it is. Here, the author introduces thirteen-year-old Varya by the "dark patch of fur between her legs" in the second sentence of the book. I just... why?
Overall, though, this is a mixed bag of interesting ideas, steps in the right direction that halt too quickly, and a somewhat pedestrian account of the characters' lives. I felt like The Immortalists struggled to live up to its premise.
I guess we can probably expect more of these weird feminist(?) dystopias in the wake of The Handmaid's Tale's Hulu series. Between this and the superhI guess we can probably expect more of these weird feminist(?) dystopias in the wake of The Handmaid's Tale's Hulu series. Between this and the superhero-movie-turned-superhero-book trend, you can pretty much predict the new book trends based on what's popular on the big and small screens.
Here, Zumas imagines a United States where the Personhood Amendment gives rights to unborn embryos, outlawing abortion and IVF (because said embryos cannot give consent). The Canadian government assist by erecting a figurative "Pink Wall" across the U.S.-Canadian border, meaning that they will capture and return any woman suspected of crossing the border for an abortion or IVF.
It sounded fascinating to me. Given the political climate in the U.S. and the fervor of pro-life advocates, it is not a particularly implausible scenario. But, unfortunately, the amount of "literary" frills in Red Clocks made it almost impossible to enjoy (maybe that isn't the right word, but you know what I'm saying).
It is such a painfully cerebral read, and it feels to me like a book of this kind has the greatest impact when you are pulled deep into the lives and horrors of the characters, not viewing them through a distant lens. Red Clocks would be a horror story for many women, including myself, and yet I felt so emotionally-distanced from the story and all four (or you could say five) perspectives.
I have to assume the emotional distance is intentional. Zumas refers to the four main characters as "The Biographer" (Ro), "The Wife" (Susan), "The Daughter" (Mattie) and "The Mender" (Gin), with the fifth perspective being that of fictional explorer, Eivør Minervudottir, who "The Biographer" is writing a book about.
Each of the main four are dealing with womanhood issues that are threatened by the new laws. Ro's perspective is easily the most palatable, though we still have to sit through a vaginal exam that unfolds like this:
On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the shrill funk of an elderly cheese and one being no odor at all, how would he rank the smell of the biographer's vagina? How does it compare with the other vaginas barreling through this exam room, day in, day out, years of vaginas, a crowd of vulvic ghosts? Plenty of women don't shower beforehand, or are battling a yeast, or just happen naturally to stink in the nethers. Kalbfleisch has sniffed some ripe tangs in his time.
Ro is trying desperately to conceive before a new law is introduced banning single parent families. Susan is something of a cliche depressed housewife, struggling with the dissatisfaction of staying home. Mattie is a teenager, pregnant, and unsure of what to do. Gin provides herbal remedies for abortion, amongst other things, and is the modern-day equivalent of a witch under the new amendment.
Zumas experiments with different styles that change as we jump from one character to another. The narrative is fractured and messy - definitely more about experimental writing than telling a compelling and/or important story. I appreciate that this will be better suited to the kind of reader I am not.
Overall, I felt the book was more concept and writing than characters and narrative structure. It really depends on what you're looking for, but I would personally expect a book with this intriguing a premise to contain a strong emotional pull and more of a plot. Oh well. I'm sure similar novels will be on the way.
There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me any more. 3. Sometimes I lie.
HOLY MOTHER OF TWISTS.
There are three things you should know about me: 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me any more. 3. Sometimes I lie.
HOLY MOTHER OF TWISTS.
I'm not usually a fan of books that hang everything on their twists or reveals, but it seems I can make an exception when my mind explodes multiple times from all the surprises. This is a book where it's important to go into it knowing as little as possible, which makes it difficult to review. But I shall try.
Amber Reynolds wakes up in hospital, but to everyone else she is in a coma. She can't move or speak. She can hear the people who visit her, but they're not aware of it. The narrative jumps between the "Now" in the hospital room where Amber attempts to uncover what happened, a "Then" leading up to what happened, and childhood diaries from decades ago.
It all starts very intriguing but it also seems like a standard mystery. Amber knows her husband is somehow involved in what happened to her, but she can't remember why. Through her narration, we must piece together the truth. Well, the truth as Amber sees it. Or the truth she gives us.
Sometimes I Lie is compelling, but I gave it four instead of five stars because it lingers a little too long on the not-knowing in the earlier chapters, through hallucinations and dream sequences. There was a very clear point to me when this book went from "not bad" to "really effin' good". I'll let you work out when that is.
If you figure out all the twists and turns, then you must be one hell of an astute reader. I thought the author set it up perfectly, framing the narrative secrets just right so that I didn't even fully work out the questions I should be asking, never mind the answers. There were parts that left me speechless in shock.
The epilogue leaves the story open for a sequel. I'm interested to see what the author will do with it; I only hope it is actually necessary, seeing that all the secrets seem to have been given up in this book. But who knows? Maybe the author has even more wild surprises up her sleeve.
Kinsella is my go-to for fun, feel-good reads that demand very little of me. After all these years, since the very first shopaholic book, I know exactKinsella is my go-to for fun, feel-good reads that demand very little of me. After all these years, since the very first shopaholic book, I know exactly what I'm going to get from her and I'm totally good with that. Unfortunately, though, a huge chunk of My Not So Perfect Life bored the pants off me.
The author's books may be shallow and silly, but I have also always found them charming, funny and charismatic. I couldn't help liking Becky Bloomwood. I especially liked Audrey and her family from 2015's Finding Audrey. But I felt zero spark from Katie Brenner. Or this book's love interest. Or the story.
Others have noted the similarities between this and The Devil Wears Prada, and that is especially true of the book's opening. I would say it is practically identical. Katie Brenner is starting her new job at a trendy marketing/branding agency in London. It all seems very glamourous, but her reality is running errands and filling out spreadsheets for her boss - Demeter - who also happens to be selfish and insensitive. Demeter has the dream life, it seems, and everyone hates her.
Then things take a turn for the worse when Katie is fired and must return to her family in the English countryside and settle into her new job - helping out with their glamping business. Until Demeter shows up with her family for a holiday and Katie is forced to confront the fact that she might have misjudged her all along.
Everything I've written here is just a rehash of the blurb, and yet it is almost the entire plot of the book. There’s virtually nothing that happens that you can’t get from the description. The story is revealed almost in its entirety by the blurb, and everything else is predictable. Plus, this book could easily shed a hundred pages and have lost nothing.
Even if you disregard for a second my disconnect from Katie and her overlong and dull story, even if you forget the uninteresting love interest, much is built up around the whole "finding out Demeter is not actually all she first seems" angle, but this was unsatisfying to me, too. Her rudeness is explained away through misunderstandings, and while some revelations about her draw sympathy, am I really supposed to feel sorry for her because - oh my gosh - she has a few home troubles and a mortgage? I actually cringed when she complained about the beautiful stone steps outside her house and how hard it is to get a pram up them. Boo freaking hoo.
It wasn't so awful that I want to give it one star; it was just wholly unremarkable. I can feel myself already forgetting Katie Brenner and, no joke, I have honestly already forgotten the guy's name. It was too long, not fun enough, and the outcomes not satisfying enough.
I can see why it might not appeal to everyone. These stories are fragments, really; scenes from family life in Nigeria and among Nigerian expats in America. But it was so refreshing to sit down and read a collection of unpretentious short stories about people and relationships.
Despite containing magical realism, dallying in historical fiction, and experimenting with dystopia, the stories in this book are not drowning in dark metaphors and dreamy prose. The messages - if there at all - are subtle. Arimah captures quiet moments between fathers, daughters, mothers, sons, husbands and wives, and packs them full of emotion. These small insights into their lives were extremely poignant and powerful.
One such powerful example is “Light”, narrated from the perspective of Enebeli, in which his wife goes to study - and later work - in America. When she brings their daughter to live with her, Enebeli is forced to watch the fire die out in her over Skype conversations, curbed by the influence of American life.
“Before she quiets in a country that rewards her brand of boldness, in her black of body, with an incredulous fascination that makes her put it away.”
Some of the stories are dark, such as “Windfalls”, in which a mother purposely harms herself and her daughter in order to sue and collect the payouts. This lifestyle takes ever more of a toll on her daughter, both physically and mentally, until it eventually reaches a disturbing climax.
The fantastical appears in “Who Will Greet You at Home.” In this story, a woman makes babies out of yarn, wrapping paper, and human hair, hoping Mama will bless them with life. In exchange, she trades in a bit of her joy (and other emotions) at a time.
Emotions are also up for grabs in the titular "What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky", which imagines a future where climate change has brought floods to much of Britain and North America, resulting in another flood - this time of British immigrants into Nigeria where they form the “Biafra-Britannia Alliance.”
The only story I disliked was “What is a Volcano?” A very strange tale that leaned too heavily on the magical metaphors refreshingly absent from most of the other stories. It is about a feud between the god of ants and the goddess of rivers and was, for me, the least emotionally engaging of the bunch.
All of the stories somehow relate to Nigeria - its history, its future, its culture and religions. Whether it be reminiscing about the civil war in the aptly-named "War Stories", or exploring the experiences of Nigerian immigrants living in the United States in such as "Glory", the country has a strong influence on each tale.
Many of them also feature spirited young brown girls who burn too brightly for the world around them. The author does not go easy on them - they are pushed into marriages, deal with sexual abuse that no one else will believe, are beaten frequently by their parents, and can be spiteful and cruel - but you can tell, despite it all, that the author has a lot of love for them; she is on their side.
And I was on their side, too. When the characters are this strong, complex and memorable-- how could I not be?