Hello, hello! We’ve reached the final Wednesday in February, so you know what that means. It’s book review time! Instead of grabbing an advanced reader copy of something, I decided to scroll through Amazon’s suggestions for me and pick a recent release. This time, I went with The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. It was released on January 9th by G. P. Putnam’s Sons and has received fairly high praise from what I’ve seen. I try not to look at reviews until I’ve formed my initial opinions, so I picked it up solely based on the cover and the blurb. Let’s get on with the review.
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin follows the Gold siblings on their journeys through life. What’s so special about them? Well, it all starts when they go to a seer who takes them into her apartment one by one and tells them the date of their deaths. After that, the book is divided into four sections (one for each sibling) that reveals how they choose to live in spite of or because of having this information.
We start off with Simon, the youngest, who drops out of high school and moves to San Francisco in the late ’70s with his sister Klara, the only family member who knows he’s gay. He leaves behind a life where he’s expected to take over the family business and take care of his mother after his father’s death, a life he knows will make him miserable. He chooses to live the life he wants. And despite the way he dies, he’s happy at the end.
From there, things get progressively more depressing. Klara has always been the oddball of the family, wanting to be a magician and living in a world in her head where anything is possible, even overcoming death by dying. Daniel let’s his rage fester until it drives him to hunt down the seer as someone to blame for all of the death he’s had to deal with. And Varya spends so much time trying not to die that she forgets to live.
All in all, I really enjoyed the story and the characters. My only complaints with the book come from more of a writerly point of view than a readerly one. For instance, there was a ton of telling in this book. Instead of showing me the places that were important to the characters, it was as if the author wanted to cram in as many place names as possible. As someone who isn’t from New York or California, many of the places were unfamiliar to me and felt like filler. Instead of telling me every single club Simon went to or Klara performed at, it would’ve been nice to get a more in-depth view of those two characters. Their arcs felt really rushed whereas Daniel’s and Varya’s felt dragged out.
Another thing I noticed was that the story seemed to randomly change between present and past tense. It didn’t detract from the story, but it was something I noticed. I’d go back to try to figure out why the shifts occurred and, a lot of the time, I’d find no real reason for it. Couple that with random changes in character points of view (Mom taking over a scene in Klara’s section, the niece taking over part of Varya’s section, etc.), and it made for some awkward reading moments.
Ultimately, I enjoyed the book and am happy I bought it. It’s a quick read. It only took me about six days to finish it (I’m a super slow reader). Despite my issues with it, I thought it was a nice reading experience.
Overall, I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars. If you’re into slice of life stories or literary fiction with a hint of magical realism, I’d definitely recommend picking it up.