Blackwater is the saga of a small town, Perdido, Alabama, and Elinor Dammert, the stranger who arrives there under mysterious circumstances on Easter Sunday, 1919. On the surface, Elinor is gracious, charming, anxious to belong in Perdido, and eager to marry Oscar Caskey, the eldest son of Perdido's first family. But her beautiful exterior hides a shocking secret. Beneath the waters of the Perdido River, she turns into something terrifying, a creature whispered about in stories that have chilled the residents of Perdido for generations.
Hopefully, all of us are familiar with those great surprise novels that we stumble upon, work into slowly, then wish it would never end. Even with a favorite author, there are works we might not love as much as the one that put that author on our top shelf. McDowell was one of those authors that I stumbled upon while searching deeply into reviews here on Audible. Before Blackwater, I'd read a couple of this author's books and thought they were comfortably entertaining -- nothing spectacular on the level of hardcore horror that scars you for life, but solidly above the middle-grounders in a genre that I either love or hate, depending on the novel. Before researching the author a bit, I was convinced he was a Writer, a man that knew how to create atmosphere and lay down a good ghosty story that leaves you looking at the world a little differently, maybe even a little suspiciously--over your shoulder.
Blackwater: TCS is a multigenerational family saga, the kind you work your way into and feel like you know the clan; you watch them grow up, stumble, succeed, you care about them or dispise them. This was a slow start for me, but I have never spent 30 hours with a book that I enjoyed so much once I was hooked. It begins ominously, at the turn of the 20th century after the Perdido River has flooded the entire Alabama town named for the muddy red river. Were you to read the book, an *Introduction* provided would tell you: [quote]*it is the story of how a river monster disguised herself as a woman and married into that family (the wealthy Caskey family), eventually becoming its matriarch, and guiding its varied members to their fates, for good and for ill.*
About the *horror* element -- this is horror like Toni Morrison's *Beloved* was horror. A better genre to squeeze this into would be Southern Gothic, Magical Realism, or Speculative Fiction. McDowell has been praised by authors such as Peter Straub, Anne Rice, and Stephen King, the latter stating that McDowell was one of the "finest writers of paperback originals in America today” and one of the most underrated authors of horror. It was this compilation of McDowell's six Caskey Family novellas that inspired King to write books in the serialized format (The Green Mile, The Tower). King's wife Tabitha completed McDowell's novel Candles Burning (2006) after McDowell's death in 1999. If you decide to look into this Alabama-born author's very original work and writings, you'll find he wrote the screenplay for some popular movies (Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Thinner, Tales From the Darkside, etc.) and that he collaborated with Hitchcock, Stephen King, among others, before his death at the age of 49.
In my opinion, Blackwater is McDowell's crowning achievement. It is rich with the feel of a small southern town situated along the banks of a dark and moody river. Like a vein pumping life or death into the people that rely on its waters, the old river is alive and knows what lies in the hearts and souls of the citizens of Perdido. I'm glad I had not read the *Introduction* provided in the print copy of this book, and that I found out about the *river monster* as I listened. SHE is first sighted sitting primly in a flooded and abandoned hotel lobby, mysteriously composed and ambiguous. Her red hair is the color of the Perdido mud still stirred into the water around her knees. Like a cross between Disney's Ariel and one of the mythological mermaids froms old sailor's stories, you will sense that Elinor is immediately a beautiful but dangerous siren with the Perdido water coursing through her veins. She is a force of nature herself, a creature of logic instead of conscience, that straddles how we define good and evil. Had McDowell lived longer, I believe he would have returned to the eternal Perdido river, that he had more stories to dredge up from that muddy swift water that flowed into bottomless whirlpools and never gave up its dead.
6 of 7 people found this review helpful
They call themselves the May Mothers - a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. Twice a week, with strollers in tow, they get together in Prospect Park, seeking refuge from the isolation of new motherhood. When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib.
A lifeless revamp of a worn out story, sorry to say. An *I'll-take-one-of-these, one-of-those, that-one, and-this-questionable-outlier* group of young pregnant women join a Mommy's group, in what is intended to be social stratification -- Gen Z style. What the author produces is a lackluster homogenization with little development of the individuals; so you just really don't care. [And worst red herring EVER. Just thinking back on that...whaaat?]
The *crime* that occurs felt sloppy and not well thought out. There would have to have been some clever strategy to pull off this level of snatch other than slipping someone a Mickey in a drink...remember that old slick move? What is so prevalent in this generation, and what the author didn't seem to ponder much, is how extensively media technologies impact society today. The players in this baby-heist would probably have been filmed on several iPhones, observed by the bar's camera, and also videoed by surveillance cameras dozens of times.
The novel feels underdeveloped overall, the plot is weak, the characters overused and stale. Now that I think back, The Perfect Mother was surprisingly void of anything memorable or noteworthy and I'm questioning why I finished this one. I thought about returning this and not writing a discouraging review, especially because I read a lot of contemporary fiction and try to encourage new authors, but the *Epilogue* was so unimaginative and rote that I was actually annoyed. I dropped my spade and the flower I was planting (and my jaw) and let rip a string of onomatopoeia. Now I remember why I pressed on...there were so many promising reviews. If you are determined to tackle TPM, hopefully you'll enjoy.
6 of 9 people found this review helpful
Rome, 1955. The artists gather for a picture at a party in an ancient villa. Bear Bavinsky, creator of vast canvases, larger than life, is at the center of the picture. His wife, Natalie, edges out of the shot. From the side of the room watches little Pinch - their son. At five years old he loves Bear almost as much as he fears him. After Bear abandons their family, Pinch will still worship him, striving to live up to the Bavinsky name.
I remember reading Loving Picasso, then seeing Surviving Picasso, and then Experiencing Picasso...that is...trying not to let my new found perspective of his soul-sucking ego affect my appreciation of his paintings when I saw them. At first, I didn't picture the battered women or recall their shattered spirits, the suicides, the depression...not while looking at such unworldly talent . But, I wondered about Francoise Gilot, a beautiful young woman and an accomplished artist herself, to whom Picasso said when Gilot told him she was also a painter, [quote]That is the funniest thing I’ve ever heard. Girls who look like you could never be painters.[end quote] She was 21, and the great Picasso was over 60.
How did she survive Picasso?
In the huge shadow cast by such staggering greatness, how does anyone catch and hold enough sunshine to thrive, and not just fade out and blow away?
Rachman, adeptly captures that struggle from the perspective of a child living with a father that is an artist as big as his reputation, a charismatic expressionist known as much for his womanizing persona as his art, Bear Bavinsky. Reminded me a little of Picasso, with all of the narcissism, but without the intentional cruelty. Bear is a better artist than father and a better father than he is a husband, but he is a great painter. Is that enough? The characters in The Italian Teacher will either find a way out of Bear's shadow, or be swallowed into him.
The story begins in Rome where the artist lives with his current delicate-artist-wife, Natalie, and their 5 yr. old son, Pinch. Little Pinch adores his Papa, always experiencing him in the incandescence of his fame. The mother makes pottery under such encouragement from Bear as, *Not everyone is an artist,* and other supportive bon mots. [All those cuts sound so pretty when said with a pat on the shoulder and a wink.] Pinch learns to pity his poor mother, seeing her and her clumsy art only through Bear's disapproving eyes as he brushes by her, off on his way to some opening or gala in his honor, and into the arms of another adoring young sycophant, with cute little Pinch by his side, performing like a well-trained parrot. And so Pinch grows up, an unnourished seedling without individual context or safe harbor, thinking his mother weak and his father nothing less than a god. But Bear quickly moves on to the next event, the next woman he fancies, the next canvas, spreading his charms (and his seed) and eventually totaling a dozen or so wives and 17 children; all whom he loves, skittering about his feet, calling him Papa -- until he doesn't. Once the littles are grown and with needs or wants, Bear moves on abandoning responsibilities to chase fame, leaving another broken family struggling in the wake of his ego.
Pinch stays in the closest orbit to Bear through the years of changing sceneries and families.
As if unable to stand on his own, he bends himself and his life to fit into a relationship with his father, twisting and turning further from his own desires and needs to fit into Bear's. From a child, he had dreamed of following in his father's steps and being a painter -- until his father ridiculed his work. Like a puppy kicked aside, he gathers himself up and settles on the next closest thing he can think of, being a writer/art major, with dreams of writing about his father and his illustrious career. Bear scoffs, giving a hardy laugh at this modified ambition. After telling Pinch his writing is no better than the painting he attempted, he finally growls at the young man, *You work for ME!*
This is the novel's pivotal point and Rachman handles this moment with the turn toward a clever benevolence. *Never can true reconcilement grow where wounds of deadly hate have pierced so deep,* said Milton. Seeds have been planted and Bear will continue to finally encourage something in Pinch. I wasn't a big fan of The Imperfectionists, but I recall the talent of the author. The Italian Teacher struck me as Rachman's better book, even feeling a bit Shakespearean at times. There are weaknesses, plausibility, characters or events that are close to something you recall in history or literature that weaken a strong narrative into an echo, or caricature. But those are teeny little personal gripes that didn't affect my overall satisfaction and enjoyment.
In an interview, the author said he has always been fascinated by art and the artists, [quote] What is the nature of creativity? How do they come up with these ideas? Do they have a separate sort of vision? Are they people who deserve to have a different set of rules than the rest of us? [end quote] Who of us haven't entertained that discussion after an art gallery stroll and a few nibbles of cheese chased by copious glasses of free cheap Pinot? This book offers some exploration of that inquiry, but tilts that focus more toward whether or not that *different set of rules* translates to family and accountability. I believe Rachman gives us his answer as to whether or not *any people deserve a different set of rules than the rest of us* by serving up one of the tastiest and most satisfying dishes of revenge I've come across in a while. Subtle but with the slightest undertones of sarcasm, finishing with a bitter bite.
It's a satisfying, intelligently written novel that gifts a reader with avenues of possible mental meandering, and what more can you ask of an author than to trust his reader's and give them something excellent to chew on. BTW: *Can you separate an artist from their art? I can look at a Picasso (love doing so), but I can't watch House of Cards, I wouldn't eat a jello pudding pop with a gun against my head, and if the Pope kicked my dog, there would be a rumble. And, I would personally knit Ms. Gilot one of those dreadful but wonderful P*ssy Hats.
11 of 14 people found this review helpful
Amber wakes up in a hospital. She can't move. She can't speak. She can't open her eyes. She can hear everyone around her, but they have no idea. Amber doesn't remember what happened, but she has a suspicion her husband had something to do with it. Alternating between her paralyzed present, the week before her accident, and a series of childhood diaries from 20 years ago, this brilliant psychological thriller audiobook asks: Is something really a lie if you believe it's the truth?
Three things you should know.
First: Sometimes, I find little holes in the most tightly woven plots and don't say anything because the book still kept me jumping up and down with my head spinning.
Second: Sometimes I have to backtrack to stay on track...and backtrack...and then realize that NO; I really did get it the first time. [Outrageous!] And move on.
Three: Unreliable narrators are fun; they *might* live lives full of blackmail, imaginary friends, arson, and possible genetic evilness coursing through their veins...and they might not (but here they kinda do).
Don't believe a thing this Amber chicky says in any of her successive approximations, just listen and enjoy -- but do keep track of where she is in her prevarication-packed tale. The book begins with Amber in a coma where she informs you of the 3 things you should know about her. 1. I'm in a coma. 2. My husband doesn't love me anymore. 3. Sometimes I lie. (She often lists trivia in groups of three. Listen for them because they are fun little bits of insight into a very sick little mind.) BTW, one of those 3 statements is true.
The coma monologues are the *Now* parts of the book; the prior to the accident parts are titled *Then;* and the *Before* parts are chilling excerpts from her childhood diaries. It'll have you wondering about inherited traits because one so young would have to live a horribly demented life under the tutelage of demonic beings to acquire such a malevolent personality so early on. Think of Damien smashing his tricycle into his *mother,* sending her cartwheeling over the upstairs railing down three floors onto the hardwood. Personally, I immediately thought of the movie The Bad Seed and little Rhoda and her tap shoes. And what a bonus...Amber has an adorable little sister...and that's all I'm saying about any of this!
As far as my rating, I thought this was a blast to listen to, maybe a bit of mental whiplash lingering from the back and forth, and I have a buzz-kill penchant of figuring out pretty intricate plots early; one of my few useless talents. Just don't read too much about it from reviews and enjoy -- think of the price you paid for this as admission to a wickedly fun ride.
34 of 38 people found this review helpful
Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her "head-for-the-hills bag". In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father's junkyard. Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism.
There is no doubting that Tara Westover's survival and achievement is nothing short of an amazing feat and she is to be applauded for her strength and determination. You don't have to read between the lines to know very early in this book that this young girl (the author) is being neglected and abused on many levels, in the home of seemingly well-intentioned, loving parents. It creeps in and feels as blatantly incongruent and ugly as a blot on a peaceful bucolic scene. All the more insidious as a wide range of mental disorders throughout the family become obvious and are dismissed and justified -- denial.
I've had to sit back and reflect on this book and the author, as well as allow myself to read the reviews of other readers in order to be objective with Educated. True, it is a story of a miraculous survival and achievement by the author. It is also a sad account, to add to hundreds of accounts we've had to hear, about the destructive effects of abuse and mental illness. I've mentioned before in my reviews I worked with patients that sadly have had very similar stories and they are all heartbreaking so it is nice to read that Ms. Westover is on top of her ordeal. Healing and recovery is a challenging process and I felt Westover, at times, compartmentalized her experiences, speaking from the authority of her academic status.
Her voice in this narrative seems to waiver a bit between assuredness and doubt, which is natural for a recovering person. I could not help wondering -- which is why I waited to read other's reviews to see if I was being too clinical -- if this story was premature in that it felt like the road still reaches out far in front of her journey. It is my hope that in telling her story, feeling the support of readers that themselves gain strength from her fight and acknowledge her accomplishment, Ms. Westover can continue her fight with courage and grace.
*In spite of its capacity to foster compassion, humanness, and understanding, throughout the ages religion has at times been a source of abuse, persecution, terrorism, and genocide. These problems continue today across the world, as illustrated by religiously-based terrorism, clergy sexual abuse, and religiously-supported genocide.* Ms. Westover makes the distinction that her family is Fundamentalist Mormons, which are sects that have separated themselves from the LDS Church. This is a very interesting time in the world culture, and I suspect that by giving voice to abuse on so many different levels, Ms. Westover has added her voice to a brave force that is demanding long needed positive change in all areas where there has been abuse.
47 of 52 people found this review helpful
Here is the precursor to Jurassic Park. Victorian explorers have heard there is a remote plateau where dinosaurs still survive, and a group set outs on a dangerous mission to find out more about it.
*I have a presentiment that you are going to propose, Ned. I do wish you wouldn't; for things are so much nicer as they are.*[Gladys]
Poor (Edward Malone) Neddy, a lowly reporter for the Daily Gazette finds out the night he plans to propose to the love of his life that he doesn't cut the mustard. Her dreams: *what I should like to be,--envied for my man....If I marry, I do want to marry a famous man! He must be a man who could do, who could act, who could look Death in the face and have no fear of him, a man of great deeds and strange experiences. It is never a man that I should love, but always the glories he had won; for they would be reflected upon me.*
Thus begins Ned's search in earnest for an adventure that will make him worthy of Gladys's love. He meets Professor George Edward Challenger, who claims to have been part of an earlier expedition that found a world that has been lost to civilization, a world where dinosaurs still exist. After a heated town meeting with other scientists and explorers where Challenger is laughed at and called a charlatan, he decides to return to the secret plateau in South America and bring back proof, and invites the young reporter along.
As you might have noticed from the passages I quoted above, Doyle's story feels a little dated (published 1912), but the language used reflects a time when blustering *adventurers* crowded into smoke-filled rooms to discuss various manly things, a few years after the Victorian era (and H.G. Wells' The Time Machine). Doyle's words take you back to another time and that was the charm of the book for me (since Spielberg already took our imaginings of a dinosaur and brought it to movie screens). Narrator Glen McCready does a beautiful job capturing the dialogue from a time when conversation was an art that required finesse and refinement.
I doubt there are any spoilers still undisclosed since 1912. You can't help but snicker a little when the young reporter returns a famous explorer, welcomed back with a grand procession -- a hero. Alas, Gladys who yearned for her famous man has settled down with a simple clerk. She tells Ned, *I am so sorry about it. But it couldn't have been so very deep, could it, if you could go off to the other end of the world and leave me here alone.* Doyle wraps up with a wink to readers; Ned/Edward escapes Gladys and gladly chooses to return again to the secret plateau in the Amazon.
NOTE: A big disappointment was the PDF! While it has a good piece on Doyle [*Notes by Roy McMillan*], it doesn't contain the original illustrations included in the book when *it was originally published serially in the popular Strand Magazine and illustrated by New-Zealand-born artist Harry Rountree during the months of April–November 1912.* The pictures add another dimension to Doyle's story and are worth searching out.
10 of 13 people found this review helpful
Felix is at the top of his game as artistic director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he's staging a Tempest like no other: Not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And brewing revenge.
Felix Phillips, Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Festival, is having a run of unfortunate events these days. Having lost his wife, then shortly thereafter his young daughter, he had thrown himself into a very ambitious and avant-garde production of his favorite Shakespeare play, The Tempest, only to have been betrayed by an alliance of plotting so-called friends to have him removed from his position. Felix storms off the set, and seems to disappear from the theater scene, all the while sheltering in his home (with the spirit of his dead daughter) and planning his big come back, and his revenge. Atwood sets up a Shakespearean revenge plot with subtle bits of comedy, the supernatural, and some reconciliation all worthy of the Bard's The Tempest.
Ten years later, Felix's former colleagues have lost connection with the man they double-crossed, but Felix has been watching them, noting every move meticulously. Now he resurfaces as Mr. Duke, the new Artistic Director of The Fletcher County Correctional Institute in Ontario, courtesy of the Literacy Through Literature program, financed by a city official that once conspired to take his job at the Makeshiweg. Of course, his project is to be The Tempest. He plans on doing his version and inviting the unsuspecting traitors to the opening performance. He casts himself as the play's Duke (Duke of Milan) that has been living in exile, Prospero, a powerful magician that has worked up some nasty tricks tucked up his sleeves. He'll have his revenge and he'll have his Tempest. But, Shakespeare and Atwood would never let such a plot go forth so smoothly, or predictably...double, double toil and trouble...
The real story and the best part of the novel take place at the prison. Duke's professionalism and love of the theater shine through his interactions with the prisoners in spite of his vengeful plan. Aware of the population's histories, he allows them only swear words they can pull from the play they are doing (Hagseed=the witches son Caliban; Poisonous bunch-backed toad!; scurvy companion; abortive, rooting hog! ). Profanity not directly from Shakespeare earns them penalty points. It makes for imagining some funny scenes. Unforeseen by Mr. Duke when he conjured up his plan was how Shakespeare's writing would positively affect the inmates. The more they participate, the more they begin to understand his times and his themes and to respect him and his writing. Under the spell of the Bard, they begin writing their own takes on the play, mostly rap, which are at times both profound and profane. It's brutally clever, wild and tightly strung.
As with The Tempest, Hag-Seed contains multiple storylines within storylines and multiple lessons that softened the sting of revenge and dark intentions. Trying to summarize Atwood's distinctive style is a ridiculous endeavor. While her strong political themes and parallels clearly steer her stories, without quoting her it's impossible to grasp the effectiveness of her imagination and emotions in each scene. Atwood always demands a good hard bit of reexamination, to adjust the focus from dystopia or fiction into the present real moment. It is usually in retrospect that the full vision of Atwood's novels comes into view, at least for me. (This wasn't like her dystopian The Handmaid's Tale, but it does deserve a good look back.) Hag-Seed wasn't my favorite Atwood novel, though I do recognize the brilliance (and I love The Tempest). I personally prefer her more dystopian and political novels, and I know that I could not have gotten through this if I had tried to read the text.
The play's the thing, and here it is clearly outlined and explained as Mr. Duke redirect's his own version. Even if you aren't familiar with Shakespeare's play you'll be kept on course (but a quick Wiki look would be a great help). In the case of Hag-Seed, the play may not be the thing -- it may be the narration of Atwood's writing. R.H. Thompson is a-maz-ing! He raps the lyrics of the prisoners with complete conviction and jaw-dropping talent. How he did it so perfectly, I don't know, but this is a case where he could quit his day job. This is the performance of the year in audiobooks!
11 of 13 people found this review helpful
A riveting thriller of corporate intrigue and cutthroat competition between American and Japanese business interests. On the forty-fifth floor of the Nakamoto tower in downtown Los Angeles - the new American headquarters of the immense Japanese conglomerate - a grand opening celebration is in full swing. On the forty-sixth floor, in an empty conference room, the corpse of a beautiful young woman is discovered.
I have to have an audio book going every day, I'm addicted, and I don't watch TV. With this last sale, I picked up as many as I could to add to the regular-priced 6 - 9 books I buy each month -- which gets expensive. A lot of the book were larks, titles not on my wishlist and many I'd never heard of. I chose according to the Audible reviews, what listeners liked the best. There have been only a couple I couldn't make it through, but I have to say, *Wow! You guys are good!* I've liked most of them and it was fun to read outside my usual aisles. Rising Sun was one of those surprises. I expected Crichton to pack a lot of suspense and thrills into a good story, but I was concerned whether this book would be relevant to today, or if it would be too dated. Well, surprise surprise! This was a winner with a lot of political relevance 25 yrs. after the original novel was written. Thoroughly enjoyed and recommend. Thanks for the great reviews that led me to this one.
14 of 15 people found this review helpful
Vivian Miller is a dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst assigned to uncover the leaders of Russian sleeper cells in the United States. On track for a much-needed promotion, she's developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight. After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America's borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her - her job, her husband, even her four children - are threatened.
Arrrggh...Can we talk? We've come so far lately. And then, along comes supposedly intelligent Vivian Miller, *dedicated CIA counterintelligence analyst,* Mother of the Year, and possibly the worst thing to ever happen concerning our female representatives in the Intelligence Community. Authors love to give us beautiful, supposedly smart women that make incredibly dumb decisions, I get it--movie producers are probably thumbing through their index cards of beautiful sexy leading ladies as I write this. I know most of you will like this one; I liked it -- a little bit. But, every now and then I have to kick myself while reading, and Need to Know gave me that opportunity, to exercise my acrobatic moves while reading.
I'm not going to nitpick and lambast, and don't mean to dissuade anyone interested in this book because I was mindlessly entertained, while I pulled my hair out. I did stick it out through to the finish, which I don't do if I am offended or absolutely hate a book. However, I won't be picking up the obvious sequel (and Jason Matthews need not worry about any competition). Let me stress, it moved along well, kept me wondering, and would probably be a decent TV movie. Though most of the dialogue is Vivian's emotional distress, the crux of the story comes down to what we would do for our children -- or what impossible extremes we would face to keep our vision of a loving happy family together, especially when that ideology conflicts with the ideology of our profession.
The problem is the implausibilities far far outweigh the plausibilities, and you end up wondering how anyone that missed so many red flags at home got passed the first job interview with the CIA. It's difficult to explain my ire without giving away the major spoiler. Let's just say that if the Russian Provocateur had been a snake, Vivian would have died from venom and the Miller children would be without a mother.
The plot is flimsy, the details very vague and improbable, and the bulk of the book undermines Vivian's validity (as well as the security of our nation). If you are looking for a good spy thriller, a smart novel of espionage on the homefront, pass. If you want a book about a troubled marriage, sit down with Vivian, and a box of Kleenex.
15 of 19 people found this review helpful
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. A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next.
As the summary says, during the summer of 1969, four siblings in New York, Varya - 13, Daniel -11, Klara - 9, and Simon - 7, are contemplating another boring, miserably humid day on the Lower East Side when Daniel tells them he heard about a lady, a psychic, claiming the power *to tell fortunes and something else...she can say when you'll die.* Varya argues she doesn't want to know, Klara and Simon agree to go, and gradually the four make a pact to combine their savings and make a secret visit to the lady on Hester St.
Varya is the last to meet with the woman. After manipulating the young girl's palm she tells Varya she'll die in 2044, at the age of 88. *How do you know?* Varya asks. The woman says everything is contained in the hand, quoting the Greek philosopher, Heroclitus: *A man's character is his destiny.* (Personally, I'm not sure how the author has tied destiny to longevity.) When she reunites with her siblings outside, Danny is stony, Klara's cheeks are streaked with tears, and Simon is quiet and distant then refuses to eat dinner. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the author is throwing us a glimpse into the future. Potato, potahto...the first little manipulation by the author, in my opinion, a step at setting into motion the prophecies. The author is essentially asking, if you knew when you were to die, how and would you live your life differently, and, at the same time inserting the phenomenon of the self-fulfilling prophecy i.e.: an expectation about a subject, such as a person or event, can affect our behavior towards that subject, which causes the expectation to be realized.
If Tom Hank's character in Big, 12 yr. old Josh, would have known how it would all go, would he have dropped that quarter into Zoltar's gaping mouth and said to those flashing red eyes, *I wish I were big?"
The rest of the novel is divided into sections, each dealing with one of the siblings. Young Simon leaves for San Francisco ten years later, becomes a dancer in a gay nightclub. It's the early 80's, and after a string of boa feathers and gay affairs, he contracts AIDS. The sexual encounters the author describes are a bit graphic, which may be an issue for some readers. Simon has been reckless and irresponsible, obviously living very conscious of his death sentence.The once little quiet, distant Simon that couldn't eat his dinner, passes away the very day foretold by the fortune teller. ...And then there were three.
And, so it goes, minor characters slip in and out of the story, perfunctory visits to the Jewish mother in New York regroups the siblings and feel like little more than mile markers to show how the family dynamics have shifted. But, you can't yet sell Ms. Benjamin short. There are also other factors afflicting the siblings as they live out their lives. How do depression, addictions, mental disorders, disease, and family problems fit into each person's trajectory?
Haven't most of us felt that jab of self-doubt while reading a book? Sat in the corner at Book Club listening to unanimous accolades, too busy swallowing your intended declaration of *poopoo* regarding your reading experience to enjoy the coffee cake. That's how I've felt since I read this novel and the corresponding rave reviews. I waited and tried to re-evaluate my experience, but I wasn't able to find myself engaged with the book. And I really didn't like any of the siblings. The author writes intelligently, beautifully, and almost convinced me this was deserving the starred reviews. I didn't feel it, so I'll sit back and eat my coffee cake and realize that a book can have an interesting premise, wonderful sentences, a page full of recommendations, and still be a disappointment.
22 of 26 people found this review helpful