Janet Elsbach, February 7, 2007 (view all comments by Janet Elsbach)
There's some great writing here but the book is so carefully (over-)constructed that it gets lost. The plot is so twisty and the perspectives so shifty that even though I was supposed to be rolling along, post-modernly digging the meta-narrative about the subjectivity of truth and so forth, I was often just lost, flipping back and forth pointlessly among the pages trying to decode simple plot elements. There are some great characterizations, but overall the characters are so bloodlessly and irredeemably unhappy that I was hungover at the end, missing the breathtaking resolution I'd been wooed with and glad to be out of this grey, murky world of meanness.
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Sarah E Rose, January 25, 2007 (view all comments by Sarah E Rose)
The Uses of Enchantment was pretty mind-blowing. Taut and suspenseful, and almost entirely dialogue. No exposition, no flashbacks . . . all present tense, cat-and-mouse, intense and playful dialogue. The main character is a complex and fully fleshed out teenage girl, wrestling with her sexuality. A great read.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"On November 7, 1985, Mary Veal, 16, a not especially distinguished upper-middle-class girl, disappears from New England's Semmering Academy. A month later she reappears at Semmering, claiming amnesia, but hinting at abduction and ravishment. The events in Believer editor Julavits's third, beautifully executed novel take place on three levels: one, dedicated to 'what might have happened,' is the story of the supposedly blank interval; another is dedicated to the inevitable therapeutic aftermath, as Mary's therapist, Dr. Hammer, tries to discover whether Mary is lying, either about the abduction or the amnesia; and the present of the novel, which revolves around the funeral of Mary's mother, Paula, in 1999. There, Mary feels not only the hostility of her sisters, Regina (an unsuccessful poet) and Gaby (a disheveled lesbian) but Paula's posthumous hostility. Or is that an illusion? This structure delicately balances between gothic and comic, allowing Julavits to play variations on Mary's life and on the '80s moral panic of repressed memory syndromes and wild fears of child abuse. While Julavits (The Effect of Living Backwards) sometimes lets an overheated style distract from her central story, as its various layers coalesce, the mystery of what did happen to Mary Veal will enthrall the reader to the very last page." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[A] crisply written but overcomplicated novel, a cat's cradle with so many overlapping fibs, stories-within-stories, allusions, and red herrings that even multiple readings won't release all the knots. (Grade: B)"
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Julavits...perfectly captures the siren call of adolescent women, and the aftermath of those who are lured in. Potent and intoxicating: a dangerously seductive book."
"[A] moodily atmospheric yet sometimes wildly funny tale of sick, twisted love, into which Julavits effectively reels the reader by juxtaposing past and present, factual and conjectural sequences."
by Library Journal,
"[A] commanding, sophisticated narrative that is both vivid and dreamlike....Highly recommended."
by Los Angeles Times,
"These are the details that give truth to the lies we tell each other and ourselves. In this beautiful, highly accomplished novel, Julavits wields them with surgical precision and rare grace."
"[A] sinuous, slippery tale....It demands close attention, and repays it with ideas that ripple disturbingly in the mind....Read hard, and join the conversation."
by Hartford Courant,
"It's probably no coincidence that a book about witches and dark spells is being published near Halloween, but The Uses of Enchantment, with its cunning and sometimes savage study of memory and imagination, will haunt readers long after the candy and cheap costumes are gone."
by Random House,
In late afternoon on November 7, 1985, sixteen-year-old Mary Veal was abducted after field hockey practice at her all-girls New England prep school.
Or was she?
A few weeks later an unharmed Mary reappears as suddenly and mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming to have little memory of what happened to her. Her socially ambitious mother, a compelling if frosty woman descended from a Salem witch, is concerned that Mary has somehow been sullied by the experience and sends her to therapy with a psychologist named Dr. Hammer.
Mary turns out to be a cagey and difficult patient. Dr. Hammer begins to suspect thatMary concocted her tale of abduction when he discovers its parallels with a seventeenth-century narrative of a girl who was abducted by Indians and who caused her rescuer to be hanged as a witch. Hammer, eager to further his professional reputation, decides to write a book about Marys faked abduction, a project her mother sanctions, because she'd rather her daughter be a liar than a rape victim.
Fifteen years later, Mary has returned to Boston for her mother's funeral. Her abductionreal or imaginedhas tainted many lives, including her own. When Mary finds a suggestive letter sent to her mother, she suspects her mother planned a reconciliation before her death. Thus begins a quest that requires Mary to revisit the people and places in her past.
The Uses of Enchantment weaves a spell in which the reader sees how the extraordinary power of a young womans sexuality, and the desire to wield it, have a devastating effect on all involved. The riveting cat-and-mouse power games between doctor and patient, and between abductor and abductee, are gradually, dreamily revealed, along with the truth about what actually happened in 1985.
Heidi Julavits is in full command of her considerable gifts and has crafted a dazzling narrative sure to garner her further acclaim as one of the best novelists working today.
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