The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

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The Immortalists
by Chloe Benjamin
G.P. Putnam's Sons (January 9, 2018)
352 pages
Advance copy provided by publisher
 

As human beings, we are all confronted with the knowledge that our lives will one day come to an end; that our bodies were not made to last forever. I have had the distinct privilege of spending considerable time with the family members of individuals in two different situations: those whose lives end unexpectedly and those whose lives end after a prolonged struggle with illness; there are pros and cons to each, but neither is easy. 

The four siblings in Chloe Benjamin's second novel, The Immortalists, have eliminated the first of the aforementioned possibilities; the Gold children - Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon - have heard about a woman who has the ability to forecast the exact date of one's death and she practices her craft down the street from their father's business. 

The woman stares at Varya, and Varya stares back. Now that Varya is the appraiser and not the person appraised, something curious happens. The woman’s eyes lose their luster, her movements their elegance. It is too good, the fortune Varya has been given, and her good fortune becomes proof of the seer’s fraudulence: probably, she gives the same prediction to everyone. Varya thinks of the Wizard of Oz. Like him, this woman is no mage and no seer. She is a swindler, a con artist. Varya stands.

What follows is a life review of each sibling, from the early years of their lives, after their encounter with "the woman" in 1969, through adulthood, as they make decisions that are influenced by this experience. 

They began together: before any of them were people, they were eggs, four out of their mother’s millions. Astonishing, that they could diverge so dramatically in their temperaments, their fatal flaws - like strangers caught for seconds in the same elevator.

The first two sections focus on Simon and Klara, the youngest of the four siblings; these sections were the hook. Simon and Klara seem to take on their mortality with an increased zest for life, a desire to make risky, scary choices in an effort to extinguish any chance of future regret. 

Eddie’s hand appeared behind her neck to draw her closer, because he had not heard her or because he had decided to pretend as much, and she allowed herself to be kissed by him for seconds more. In doing so, she could pretend to be a different kind of person: someone who kissed a man because she liked him, not because it made her forget the hard ledge of rock from which she hung, clawing.

Unfortunately, Daniel and Varya allow their knowledge to fester and the sections of the book that focus on their experiences seem to reflect this sentiment; the pace slows and the story becomes a little more predictable. There were portions of Daniel's story that felt very detached from the rest of the narrative; maybe that is intentional, and I can acknowledge some purpose in that, but it changed my overall view of the book. 

Nevertheless, I would recommend The Immortalists as a solid read for those who enjoy well-written literary fiction with an emphasis on uncertainty and loss; in spite of its potential pitfalls, which will certainly not affect the outcome for every reader, this is an intriguing, thought-provoking novel.

Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates

Grist Mill Road by Christopher Yates