Rating: 4 out of 5
There was a lot of buzz about the NY Times best -selling book, The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin. I’d heard tons of great reviews and recently decided to crack it open. My overall thoughts on this one was that it was interesting.
The words, Thought-Provoking come to mind which coincidentally may have been featured on the back of the book. The plot; four siblings visit a fortune teller and find out the “dates of their deaths”.
Thoughts Have Wings.
The prologue aptly titled, The Woman on Hester St. lays it all out for the reader to pick up. Hinting that you need to know exactly what’s about to happen so that you can follow the rest of the story. We meet the Gold children, thirteen-year-old Varya, Daniel, eleven, Klara, nine and Simon, seven. Told as if by a guardian angel watching over the Gold’s we learn of the gypsy woman and the prophecies she has for each child.
“Character is fate—that’s what he said. They’re bound up, those two, like brothers and sisters. You wanna know the future?” She points at Varya with her free hand. “Look in the mirror.”
― Chloe Benjamin,
That quote was the most foreshadowing for me looking back on the story as a whole. Each Gold went into the room with the gypsy alone, each was given a different date and that date affected each child differently. However, there is never any clear indication that the prophecies were real, in fact, at least twice we can see examples of how their fates could’ve been easily avoided. Yet something in each of the siblings pulled them towards the lives they chose to live.
“And what if I change?” It seems impossible that Varya’s future is already inside her like an actress just offstage, waiting decades to leave the wings. “Then you’d be special.’ Cause most people don’t”
The Immortalists was a fascinatingly cerebral kind of story that forces you to ponder some of life’s most philosophical questions.Was it fate that led each Gold to their end or was it simply, the belief that things were meant to happen, that affected their realities. The destructive behaviors of each siblings seem more responsible than any fated date. Each crisis the Gold siblings found themselves in were strictly by their own design and were entirely avoidable. The recurring theme became a rather annoying race to prove the fortune teller right.
I’m still trying to reconcile O’Donoghue’s overall role. Was he cosmically linked to the Golds? Are we all cosmically linked to the random people in our lives?
***** Possible Spoilers below******
I’ve considered that maybe Eddie was the good shoulder angel in the equation. He always appeared in crucial moments offering another path. A chance for the siblings to do something else. He first appears in Simon’s he gives Simon a more than stern talking to but still insists he return home to NYC. He returns in Klara’s story having met her in Simon’s lifetime and falls for her. In this I saw a chance for Klara to lead another life altogether, still doing magic but perhaps not living as isolated a life, perhaps O’Donoghue being a cop would’ve saved her from herself. It seems his presence spooked her instead especially since it seemed like he was obsessed or stalking her. He weirdly becomes friends with Daniel, offering closer and a chance to move on from his grief over having introduced his siblings to the fortune teller idea in the first place.
The idea that grief is what caused each sibling to behave in the ways they did seemed liek a bit of a cop-out at times. The grief Klara felt for urging Simon to flee to San Francisco. Daniel’s grief for not being their for Simon, for not being closer to Klara. Varya’s grief over not connecting with any of them, that grief caused them to act out impulsively and in doing so it ruined them.
“If they had not lived as though life were a mad dash toward some unearned climax; if they had walked instead of fucking run”
― Chloe Benjamin,
I applaud Benjamin for succesfully creating a body of work that captures a snippet of humanities obsession with mortality., or immortality depending on which angle you’re addressing. Of all the questions the children could’ve asked they each wanted to know the dates of their deaths.
Knowing those dates they each took steps to achieve some form of greatness before they ran out of time. Yet as each sibling fell to their destinies, it seems hard to discern how much was actually out of their control.
Simon’s destiny was to die young, and though we can always wonder if he would’ve had a stroke or been hit by a bus we know for a fact that the lifestyle he chose to participate in. (San Francisco in the 80s for a gay male) He lived recklessly despite having every reason to find a calmer safer life. It wasn’t hard to guess that he’d be a victim of the AIDS virus, especially when introducing multiple sex partners and drugs.
Klara’s obsession with the otherworld and magic were less dangerous than her alcoholism and hallucinations. Some would even speculate that Klara was mentally ill, perhaps having a husband as a cop would’ve gotten her the help that she needed but married to fellow magician and business man gave her more pressure than she could handle. I must admit I always suspected her to fall to her death during a magic trick, to know that she ended things herself felt like cheating.
Daniel’s death also felt forced and like it didn’t belong. We start his downward spiral by having him suspended for not wanting to send unfit soldiers to their deaths and before the chapter is over he’s hunting down a gypsy, wielding a pistol and committing suicide by cop. There is no explanation for why this would’ve happened beyond it being the date he was supposed to die, yet something tells me he could’ve stayed home and seen the next day.
Varya is the only one who seems to be left standing when the book ends but her date wasn’t until 2044 and even in real life it’s only 2018, so describing a future world wouldn’t have fit within the theme of the story. Having the most time allowed Varya to got through a metaphysical death, one in which she was able to begin a new life with new possibilities unencumbered by fear which she felt far greater than her siblings.
She had been consumed by fear long before they visited the woman on Hester St. and it may have been this fear which hinted to her long life. Suffering from a mental illness of her home, she sacrificed pleasure for a chance at securing her safety. She was the only Gold who had no outward vices and she was miserable until that changed.
I like Varya’s chapter the best because it was the only chapter that showed evolution and options. Varya had started her life stagnant alive but alone, starving herself and wracked with guilt for being the last sibling standing. Yet when faced with examining her life, she rises to the occassion and chooses to make the effort to enjoy the long life she was striving for.
“It sounds like you’re saying we can choose to live. Or we can choose to survive.”
― Chloe Benjamin,