Jessica's Reviews > The Immortalists

The Immortalists by Chloe  Benjamin
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Read 2 times. Last read March 9, 2018 to March 12, 2018.

I'm not telling you anything you won't learn by reading the endpapers, so here's the deal: this story begins with a trip. In 1969, four young siblings visit a fortune teller who will tell people the date of their deaths. The prophecies each kid in the Gold family receives, not surprisingly, become the foundations upon which the stories of their lives - and therefore the book itself - rest. Readers experience the lives of each child in turn as the rest of the book unfolds. We travel with youngest two (baby Simon and younger sister Klara) as they flee the confines of New York City for the anonymity and gritty freedoms of late 1970s San Francisco; Simon doesn't even finish high school. The older siblings (Daniel and Varya) stay closer to home as they come of age, but both pursue multiple college degrees and dutifully help their widowed mother.

Benjamin brings some of her characters vividly alive. She begins with Simon, Ma Gold's favorite child and a study in contrasts. He feels smothered by his mother's attentions but also yearns to find a lover who will be as devoted after he skips town. Meanwhile, he also seeks to enjoy the wild pleasures available to a (very young) gay man in San Fransisco and throws himself into a career as a dancer. As his life draws to a close, we learn how his prophecy may have been the source of many of his decisions. Klara, too, has a wild side. She is also deeply troubled and obsessed by her prophecy, which leads to an obsession with magic and a pervasive ambition to become the first truly successful female magician. As magic becomes her lodestar, will it also prove to be her downfall? Only time will tell! The older siblings are not nearly as vibrant as the younger two, but they each have compelling and strange stories that will keep readers engaged.
And here's where it gets disappointing, at least for me: Benjamin's close attentions to each character and his or her individual plots comes at the cost of a clear overall narrative. The love between Simon and Klara and the ways in which their lives are intertwined keeps the plot train on the tracks, but as we delve into the stories of the eldest siblings, those connections fail and thus the larger narrative story fails. It is only when we reach the end of Varya's story that Benjamin finally reveals some of the key deeper connections and details that make each person's story part of one cohesive tale. For me, that came too late in the game, and so I closed the book feeling somewhat cheated even as I remained impressed by the lives that Benjamin created.
Even though it didn't satisfy me on several important levels, I still recommend it as an absorbing and thoughtful project. It wasn't until I stopped to really consider the overall story that the chunky and awkward bits really stood out. More importantly, Benjamin reaches pretty successfully to pursue the larger questions of fate versus free will and what really makes a family a family while also adeptly tracing the social and cultural changes in America from the late 1970s to the 2010s. Three and a half stars.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading (Hardcover Edition)
March 9, 2018 – Started Reading
March 9, 2018 – Shelved
March 12, 2018 – Finished Reading
March 23, 2018 – Shelved (Hardcover Edition)

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