The Vanishers

Heidi Julavits. Doubleday, $25.95 (275p) ISBN 978-0-385-52381-3
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. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 12/12/2011
Release date: 03/13/2012
Genre: Fiction
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