The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

“What do you want from your life?”

The four young Gold siblings, unbelievably gullible little urchins, beg some random soothsayer to foretell the dates of their deaths, and when she does, they devote the rest of their lives determined to make the prophecy come true. I had difficulty scraping up much empathy for people who would work so hard to ruin their lives because of something some old hoser told them when they were children.

Simon, the baby of the family, has been told at age nine that he will die at age 20. So, at age 16, he drops out of school, runs away from home, and dives into the hedonist gay life in seedy San Francisco in the pre-AIDS 80’s. Okay, I can buy that; we didn’t know back then. Even so, we do know that living a risqué, iniquitous lifestyle comes with serious consequences.  Hence, the Gypsy’s prophecy is fulfilled. Okay, so, the first prophesy runs true; therefore, the remaining sibs can logically assume that their own prophesies will too. But just in case the prognostication was not true, Klara and Daniel decide to remove any doubt, using the most ridiculous, convoluted means possible to ensure that it does.

While on the subject of Simon, though, I couldn’t help but wonder why Benjamin included the explicit pornographic details of Simon’s homosexual and masturbatory sexual acts when the rest of the novel is really rather tame; it just seems gratuitous.

I suppose the Gold sibling I liked the least, though, was Varya. She was told she’d live to a ripe old age; as a result, she becomes so guilt-ridden that she develops a host of anxiety disorders which ruin her life; she refuses to engage in life at all. As Luke tells her, “You have to live a lesser life in order to live a longer one.”

The characters, with the exception of their mother, are flat and one-dimensional. With a couple of ridiculous exceptions, (Daniel’s showdown with the gypsy and Simon’s first sexual encounter) Benjamin employs very little dynamic writing, tending to tell rather than show —the death of Luke’s older brother.

“Everything that lives must die,” and no one can tell when that time will come.