Book Review

The Immortalists

Rating:

Chloe Benjamin is a young, new voice in fiction. “The Immortalists” is her sophomore effort, and while I didn’t read her first book, this one was so roundly mentioned as one of the must-reads of 2018 that I couldn’t resist.

The premise is intriguing: Four siblings, age 7 to 13, visit a fortuneteller who tells each the date her or she will die.  The story describes how this knowledge directs their lives.

So that is a positive, this unusual premise.  Likewise Ms. Benjamin’s prose, which is clean, fresh, and vivid in its simplicity.  She also does her homework — on sleight of hand, on gay life in San Francisco in the time of AIDS, on monkey behavior.  And yes, this book does raise the interesting issue of whether we are the cause or the result of our fate.  But the question is lost in a morass of homework details.  A good editor might have pared these down.

Mostly, I wanted more on relationships.  We have four separate stories here, one for each of the children who learns his fate.  Only at the end do we learn, in hindsight, how each of the siblings think of each other.  And the ending is marginally redeeming.  Still, the siblings’ connection felt remote to me.  Granted, I’m not wild about magic or moneys.  But that’s me, and I am not the author of this book.

Chloe Benjamin is 28.  Was she simply too young to handle the emotional potential of this story?  She does suffer the curse of pre-pub hype.  When expectations are high, well, expectations are high.

Sadly, the narrator of the audiobook wasn’t a help.  I’ve loved certain narrators, have listened to books where they make the story, and I’ve told you all that.  Here, though, the narrator was a distraction.  Her male voices (and there were many) sounded spiteful and bratty.  That may be how Ms. Benjamin intended those characters to be.  I just found it annoying.

That said, I would read Chloe Benjamin again simply for the sake of her prose.  She has great potential.