Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Uses of Enchantment


The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits was originally published in October 2006. The hardcover edition has 354 pages. This is my second novel by Julavits and I am officially done reading her. Julavits is a good writer - of that fact there is no question. I kept reading because her writing is so good and I expected the novel to get better. However, this novel left me dissatisfied. A reviewer mentioned the "cleverness factor" of Julavits' writing that makes it end up feeling contrived and I think that is part of the problem for me too. The cleverness of the writing couldn't make up for what the novel lacks: the ending felt incomplete, there was not a single likeable character, and the absence of quotation marks around dialogue in certain sections was distracting. I'll repeat what I said about her novel The Effects of Living Backward, "I can see where Julavits wanted to go, but I, personally, don't feel like she quite reached her destination."

It was mentioned that the people who don't like this novel or rate it highly don't understand that the premise of the book is that "Women are not the authors of their own narratives. Not then, not now." I'm not going to buy into that self absorbed premise because a case could be made that none of us, men, women, or children, are the authors of our own narratives. Lives are interconnected and, beyond that fact, we can all view events from our own point of view. It's not that it was completely bad, though. I'll recommend it with a rating of 2.9 because I know there are people who will find it deep, engaging, and existential but.... I didn't.

At Amazon, From Publishers Weekly:
Starred Review. 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... 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. Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

3 comments:

She Became a Butterfly said...
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Teddy Rose said...

It's too bad that such a good writer can't write a good novel. Do uyou think she might be a better novella or short story author?

Lori said...

Perhaps that would help, Teddy. Personally, I'm done with her. You can tell she's a smart, intelligent woman, great technical skills, but the two novels I have read have not impressed me. But then again, it could be just me.