Book Review: 'The Vanishers' by Heidi Julavits

A story about second sight as published in the MORE 2012 issue

by Elissa Schappell
the vanishers book image

The claws-outbattles women wage against one another are at the center of Heidi Julavits’s provocative, surreally comic novel The Vanishers (Doubleday). Julia Severn, a student of parapsychology, is the victim of a double assault: emotional aftershocks from her mother’s long-ago suicide and a recent, devastating attack launched by her jealous, aging mentor, a celebrated psychic known as Madame Ackermann. Fearing for her safety and disabled by a host of mysterious, debilitating maladies, Julia escapes to New York City, where her paranormal skills are enlisted to track down a cult feminist filmmaker who may have known Julia’s mother, an artist torn between her craft and her family.

Julia’s quest to heal herself and solve the mystery of the missing woman leads herdeep into a disturbing subculture where people undergo extreme plastic surgery in order to vanish from their old lives and start again. This book is a clever, unsparing exploration of the agony of ambition and the myriad ways we sabotage our own most cherished dreams.

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Next: 'Enchantments' by Kathryn Harrison

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First published in the March 2012 issue

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