Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed novelist and The Believer editor Heidi Julavits, a wildly imaginative and emotionally intense novel about mothers, daughters, and the psychic damage women can inflict on one another.
Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death?
Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.
Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.
As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.
"A young student surpasses her troubled mentor, unleashing much wrath, in Julavits's wry, witty new novel (after The Uses of Enchantment). Julia Severn is a mediocre student at New Hampshire's Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, which is no Hogwarts. Frauds mix with the rare mystic, and students attempt mostly in vain to telepathically petrify hunks of pork. Enigmatic psychic diva Madame Ackermann handpicks Julia to be her stenographer, spreading jealousy until Madame feels threatened by Julia and morphs from harmless dingbat into sinister sociopath, ousting the student and debilitating her abilities. Relocated to New York, Julia finds work that is so odd it's often mistaken for performance art. As she begins to recover her abilities, she meets the mysterious Alwyn and finds her fortune deeply intertwined with a missing feminist French filmmaker who may hold insight about her dead mother. Julia comes to discover much about herself, the world, and her formidable former mentor. Packed with a revolving cast of faces, the story frequently switches into the past, especially at the outset, which can create confusion. But the overall effect is magical, and Julavits's often acerbic prose generates laughs despite the sad reality of Julia's life. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"The Vanishers is a fascinating inquiry into matriarchal structures: their power struggles, the projections, distortions and anxieties that result, and, above all, the creative -- and destructive -- energies that they unleash. A real achievement." Tom McCarthy, author of Remainder and C
"It is always an adventure and a delight to read Heidi Julavits. Her intellectual brio and descriptive inventiveness are on full display in The Vanishers, but she’s gone further this time by inventing a new genre: the astral detective thriller." Jennifer Egan, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit from the Goon Squad
"A technical marvel...that moves with the speed and inevitability of a freight train...Entertaining, devastating, and as slippery as a strand of its anti-heroine's lank hair." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Julavits expertly keeps the reader baffled until the end, but beneath the mystery is a sophisticated meditation on truth and bias." The New Yorker
"Suspenseful, energetic, and literarily playful." San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Heidi Julavits is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, The Uses of Enchantment, The Effect of Living Backwards, and The Mineral Palace. Her fiction has appeared in Harper's, Esquire, and The Best American Short Stories, among other places. She's a founding editor of The Believer magazine and the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. She lives in Manhattan and Maine.