by Chloe Benjamin
A dazzling family love story reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You from a novelist heralded by Lorrie Moore as a “great new talent.”
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.
There is no air-conditioning in the apartment, and this year— the summer of 1969— it seems something is happening to everyone but them. People are getting wasted at Woodstock and singing “Pinball Wizard” and watching Midnight Cowboy, which none of the Gold children are allowed to see.
Gertie has always believed in superstition more than any God. She spits three times when a funeral goes by, throws salt if the shaker falls over, and never passed a cemetery while pregnant, which required the family to endure constant rerouting between 1956 and 1962. Each Friday, she observes the Sabbath with effortful patience, as if the Sabbath is a guest she can’t wait to get rid of.
What if the woman on Hester Street is right, and the next few years are his last? The mere thought turns his life a different color; it makes everything feel urgent, glittering, precious.
He’s angry with the disease. He rages at the disease. For so long, he hated the woman, too. How, he wondered, could she give such a terrible fortune to a child? But now he thinks of her differently, like a second mother or a god, she who showed him the door and said: Go.
I know they’re your family… But if they weren’t, you wouldn’t like them, either.
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 Immortalists was one of those prickly heartbreaking books that tend to keep me on edge and in conflict while reading. It was also stunningly observant, painfully insightful, carefully paced, and hard to leave alone. The premise, plot, and subplots of this epic tale were ingeniously creative, multifaceted, complex, and inexplicably intriguing. Each of the main and many of the secondary characters were deeply flawed, in possession of questionable mental health, fractured, prone to self-loathing yet selfish, full of secrets, and living in their heads. They were uniquely fascinating and exquisitely baffling and peculiar, while also periodically frustratingly inconsistent and irrational, or disappointingly irresponsible. In other words – they were real.
The writing was top-shelf, although there were a few times where the story felt bogged down by an influx of medical and research minutia and/or complicated details that appeared unnecessary, although I also found myself absorbing many interesting facts about nature and magic tricks. This will undoubtedly be one of those books that will forever remain in my memory banks and sense that I will be living with these unique characters rattling around in my headspace for quite some time, as I am rather reluctant to let them go.
About the Author
Chloe Benjamin is the author of THE ANATOMY OF DREAMS (Atria, 2014), which received the Edna Ferber Fiction Book Award and was longlisted for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Her second novel, THE IMMORTALISTS, is forthcoming from Putnam. A graduate of Vassar College and the M.F.A. in fiction at the University of Wisconsin, Chloe lives with her husband in Madison, WI.