At the beginning of Chloe Benjamin’s startlingly brilliant novel, four young siblings visit a fortune teller in 1969 New York and are each told the date of their death. The ways in which these four characters are haunted, effected & shaped by this knowledge is the heart of this book, which is a solid enough hook. But what Benjamin is able spin out of this simple, perhaps even simplistic, premise is a work of profound depth. The book is split into four sections, each of them focusing on one of the siblings, and Benjamin delves deeply into these characters while also using them as entries to larger themes and ideas. The book is about fate and free will, of course, but about so many other things: illusion, magic vs. reality, faith, science, past & present. It’s a book that is deeply, profoundly emotional and also extremely thought-provoking. The characters come absolutely perfectly to life, but the ideas crackle with energy and power as well. Even side characters, like the siblings’ protective mother or a young police officer who finds himself inextricably linked with the siblings and their respective stories, are deep and feel absolutely real. I’m loathe to tell too much about this book because, for as much as it is about character and idea, it is also a book with a compelling plot that goes in directions you probably won’t be able to predict. It should be obvious at this point that Benjamin has written a novel that truly succeeds on every level: character, plot, theme, emotion, idea. This is the best new novel I’ve read in years, to be perfectly frank. I rarely cry reading books, but I cried twice reading The Immortalists and I was, countless times, moved by the beauty of Benjamin’s prose and the things she was getting at. My main fear in writing this review is, in some way, overselling the book and make any reader of this book feel disappointed because I’ve made it seem like too much of a work of genius. But I think this is a work of genius and Benjamin has established herself as a woman to watch in the realm of fiction. This book haunted by fate and death is, I think, destined to endure. 4 stars.
tl;dr – compelling novel explores issues of fate & death in a heady way, but doesn’t lose its sight on complicated characters and emotionally devastating storytelling. 4 stars.