Even Chloe Benjamin isn’t quite certain where the idea came from for her second novel, “The Immortalists.” The book follows four siblings as their lives play out under the shadow of a prophecy they received from a neighborhood fortune-teller when they are children. What the woman tells each is the exact date on which they will die.
Who would want to know such a thing? “I think some people who are planners like to have a sense of what they’d want to accomplish before they die,” Benjamin said. “But I’m a planner, and I think that would just be too foreboding.” At readings, she added, only one or two audience members will typically say they would want to know. That knowledge, for the Gold siblings, leads each in a very different direction.
Klara, the third oldest Gold, moves to San Francisco and works to become a magician. “For me, the role of magic in the book is less about something really fantastical and more about what Klara believes,” Benjamin said, “which is the magic is inherent in everyday life. To me, the magic in the book is the unknown, it’s mystery — it’s things that can’t be explained by science or other belief systems.”
Both fortune-tellers and magicians work on the power of suggestion, Benjamin added, and both raise questions of what is real and what is projection. “I actually don’t have a firm belief myself about whether the fortune-teller was a true psychic or whether she was a fraud,” Benjamin said. “I wanted to leave the book open to interpretation.”
Setting two of the siblings’ stories in her hometown was important to Benjamin. “I’m a really proud native of San Francisco,” she said. “I grew up with the gay community as very much part of my life, and that is very close to my heart.”
Benjamin will read 7 p.m. Tuesday at Harvard Book Store.Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.