Reluctant Immortals by Gwendolyn Kiste

Review by Brennan LaFaro

To paraphrase Quincy Jones, the best songs are based on a melody you could plunk out on a piano with one finger. While nowhere near a universal rule, there’s something to be said for a one sentence synopsis that sells a book.

Lucy of Dracula and Bertha of Jane Eyre are immortals living in 1960s Haight-Ashbury, laying low from the men who wronged them.
You want to know more, right? How could you not?

Reluctant Immortals showcases a mix of classic and modernism, tinged with nostalgia and very much a product of the time period Kiste sets it in, but without losing sight of current issues. The book shows that in 200 years, not much, or at least not enough, has changed, telling the story through a feminist lens.

Lucy and Bertha are fully fleshed out characters, although one could argue that they were before Kiste was born, she breathes life into them and forges a relationship that is touching and often darkly humorous. There is a balancing act at play in Reluctant Immortals, where Kiste lays out the literary backstories of these characters for a variety of audiences—informing the uninitiated, while also recapping for readers familiar with these women and their world. The exposition never feels excessive, and as a reader familiar with Dracula, but not Jane Eyre, I admired Kiste’s ability to walk that line.

Reluctant Immortals is one of the most original books of 2022, an odd statement to make, but one I stand by nonetheless. Funny, poignant, and with genuine chills, this is among Gwendolyn Kiste’s best work.

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