More Thanksgiving… The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

published 2018

Thanksgiving Immortalists 1

On Thanksgiving morning, Daniel wakes earlier than Raj and Ruby. It’s 6.45, milky pink light and the rustling of squirrels, a deer nibbling at the brown lawn. He makes a pot of strong coffee and sits in the rocking chair beside the living room window with Mira’s laptop…

[Later in the day]  Mira and Raj work on the vegetables while Gertie makes her famous stuffing. Daniel and Ruby tend the bird, an eighteen-pound beast slathered in butter and garlic and thyme. In early afternoon, while most of the food is roasting or waiting to roast and Mira is wiping the counters down, Raj, takes a business call in the guest room. Gertie naps. Ruby and Daniel sit in the livingroom: Daniel in the rocking chair with the laptop, Ruby on the couch with a book of sudoku puzzles. Snow drifts outside the window, melting as soon as it touches the glass.


In a post on this book earlier in the year I rudely said it was an example of a certain kind of American novel: ‘And then we went uptown and then we went downtown and then it was Thanksgiving’ – perhaps for some people that is a come-on, but I have read too many like that.

So after yesterday’s traditional (??) historical scene from a Louisa May Alcott book, here is the Thanksgiving scene from this book, complete with teeth-clenchingly annoying present historic tense (but can hardly blame Benjamin for that, as every second novel features it these days). And equally traditional – all the Thanksgiving scenes in the novels I mention above are full of troubles and rows.

So this is a nicely done picture of a family party trying to get through Thanksgiving, and hoping to heal divisions between two sectors of the family.

The setup of the book is that four siblings are told by a fortune teller when they are going to die: we then see each story in turn. By the time of this family feast, two of them are dead, and the family rift has been the result.

When they get together over the table, there will be a huge row about politics – about the Iraq war and Saddam Hussain and the Weapons of Mass Destruction (it reminded me of the discussions in Jane Smiley’s Ten Days in the Hills, also earlier this year).

And one character will take action which will be life-changing.

The picture is the cover of a 1905 magazine’s Thanksgiving edition, from the Library of Congress.


  1. I know what you mean about the 'and then...' storytelling style, Moira. I've read my share of it, too. But this does sound like a solid story. I think that's the thing about holidays; they bring family together in ways that can be so awkward and uncomfortable, even if the family isn't severely dysfunctional. And yet, what an opportunity for the author to add in all sorts of tension, conflict, personalities, etc..

    1. Thanksgiving is such a great opportunity for writers to examine their characters' families that I can hardly blame them for making the most of that. And we do all enjoy a good dinner table row - in fiction anyway.

  2. Daniel hates present historic tense with a white hot intensity. He thinks it is like a sexually transmitted disease of modern literature. The text that Daniel is reading seems as if it might potentially be interesting, but it is written in present historic tense. It is absurd. Daniel thinks the only thing worse is first person narrative present historic tense. The very notion that soneone is simultaneously being slaughtered brutally with a turkey baster AND taking time out to narrate it as it happens..... Faugh!

    1. Daniel is extreme, but absolutely right. And made me laugh a lot.

  3. Another pass Moira - can't wait until you start posting on all the super female authors I've been blogging about this month! Ha

    1. Well I've certainly picked up some good tips from your blogging this month!


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