Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Read by Maggie Hoffman
Published January 2018 by Penguin Publishing Group
Source: audiobook checked out through my local library

Publisher's Summary:
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.

My Thoughts:
While the story starts in New York City, Benjamin lingers there only long enough to firmly place the family in their background. After the death of their father,  Simon and Klara take off for San Francisco and Benjamin moves her story forward from there by focusing on one sibling at a time until the date the psychic forecast they would die happens. I'm not always a fan of books where the author has broken up the book in this way. I often feel like I've lost touch with the other characters and more like I'm reading a series of connected short stories. Benjamin makes it work. At least one of the siblings and/or their mother, Gerta, play a role in each character's storyline. I never felt disconnected from the rest of the family.

I'll be honest. As much as I was enjoying Benjamin's writing, early on there was a part that was fairly sexually graphic and I began to wonder where the book was going...and if I was going to enjoy it if it continued in that vein. But Benjamin had a purpose for that and when that purpose was served, she moved on. It was truly the only problem I had with this book. Benjamin does a marvelous job of making her settings come to life. In New York, you can practically taste the custards at Schmulka Bernstein's and feel the heat of the desert. Benjamin has clearly done her research on her settings. What struck my most was the relationship between these siblings, their affection for each other, their annoyance and anger, their guilt.

Most of all, Benjamin makes readers think and you know how much I like a book that makes me think.

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

Would it change the way you lived your life? Would you live more cautiously, trying to change things? Or would you live life to the fullest, taking risks? If you knew you would live to 90, would you watch your diet and exercise so that you made sure you were healthy as possible into your dotage? Or would you figure it wouldn't matter and eat all of the bacon and chocolate, knowing it wasn't going to cause you to die prematurely? And what of relationships? If you knew you were going to die young, would you avoid relationships so as to not hurt people? Oh, so many things to think about!

Assuming your book club wouldn't be put off by that section I mentioned earlier, I think there'd be a lot here for a book club to talk about.

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