three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
59-July-Aug-2012
user_rating: 
0

748397.pngCoeditor of the literary magazine the Believer, Heidi Julavits is the author of three previous novels. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in Esquire, Harper's Magazine, and McSweeney's Quarterly. Reviewed: The Uses of Enchantment (3.5 of 5 Stars Jan/Feb 2007)

The Story: Julia Severn, a student at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology in New Hampshire, is thrilled when her mentor, Madame Ackermann, appoints her as her new stenographer, with the primary duty of recording Madame's utterances while in a trance. Madame's powers, however, are dwindling, and, when she discovers that Julia is padding her reports using her own blossoming abilities, she flies into a jealous rage and unleashes a devastating psychic attack that leaves the young woman chronically ill. As Julia attempts to piece her life back together, she is recruited to track down a missing French filmmaker, Varga, who may hold the key to Julia's past.
Doubleday. 304 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780385523813

Cleveland Plain Dealer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The satire‚ of academe, of self-help, of performance art‚ occasionally grows tedious, but the visceral kick of Julavits's prose does not. If you're lucky, you have one brazen friend who can mesmerize the room with a wild story. If you're not, The Vanishers will provide a similar jolt of transgressive, feminine thrill." Karen R. Long

Oregonian 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Some passages reminded me, in tone and content, of a doctoral dissertation, overly Foucaultian, a bit too ponderous for an otherwise quirky narrative. But there's no law against being overly brilliant, and Julavits is definitely that. And bold." Debra Gwartney

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Julavits's characters are as earnestly bizarre as Haruki Murakami's, and she's as funny as Lorrie Moore. Julavits is so smart and funny, and her writing is so good, you wish at times she'd dispense with subplots and doppelganger and just revel in the heady brew of her ideas." Carolyn Cooke

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Vanishers's time-warp complexities and characters's shifting motives can be confusing. But, like a dream, it's never anything but intriguing." Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi

NYTimes Book Review 3 of 5 Stars
"While the language remains vivid, its satisfactions are overwhelmed by the confusion of the overdetermined plot. Over all, the stakes feel artificially pumped up by the hectic narrative, which labors to deliver forced surprise after forced surprise." Cristina Garc??a

Critical Summary

Julavits's latest novel is "a blistering read," notes the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and fans of Julavits won't be disappointed. The Vanishers bears the hallmarks of her signature style: inventive prose, wickedly funny one-liners, quirky characters, and a frantic pace that keeps readers hurtling through the pages of this "part coming-of-age story, part murder mystery, part absurdist romp, part neurological novel" (San Francisco Chronicle). It is precisely that pace, however, that began to wear a bit on some critics. The novel's plots, subplots, double dealings, doppelgangers, revelations, coincidences, and hallucinations obscure the novel's deeper themes‚ revenge, grief, reinvention, and the role of the past‚ and touching moments. Nevertheless, readers who can appreciate Julavits's linguistic acrobatics and dizzying drive will find "a page-turner" and "a wild ride" (Oregonian).