Title: The Vanishers
Author: Heidi Julavits
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5
Julia is a psychic working for Madame Ackerman at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, but when she’s let go, she’s bewildered. She wanders aimlessly for some time, dealing with her unexplainable physical ailments. It’s only later that she is told that Madame Ackerman was threatened by Julia’s psychic abilities and is now attacking her psychically. Julia must discover how to cope with these attacks and fight back, while also paying back those who are helping her recover.
If I had to choose one word to sum up The Vanishers, “weird” would be it. This is a kooky book, full of surprises and confusing twists. It’s also not what it appears; on the surface, it seems to be about a psychic war between a mentor and mentee, fought on the astral plane. But in reality, it’s a novel about the complicated relationships between women, especially focusing in on mothers and daughters.
Julia’s mother committed suicide when she was young, and in many ways, this book is about Julia’s quest to find her. How does this factor into the overall plot about psychics? Well, it’s convoluted and strange, and only partially makes sense. If you’re a person who needs your books clear and straightforward, then The Vanishers isn’t for you. But there’s a certain beauty in the vague nature of the novel, and it’s an adventure to figure out what each of the characters in the book are fighting for and why. Just when you think you have it all figured out, Julavits turns everything upside down.
Julavits’ writing ability is really the hook for The Vanishers. She writes with a sharp wit; the dialogue in the novel is absolutely wonderful. What’s more, she paces it incredibly well. The plot is strange, to be sure, but Julavits makes sure there’s enough suspense to keep the reader invested in the novel. Even when it seems as though things are too convoluted to ever really be fully understood, Julavits’ sparkling prose ties everything together.
It’s hard to really write a review of The Vanishers just because it’s so different. If you enjoy different and weird, especially books that take chances and require large leaps of faith, picking up this book is definitely a no-brainer. If you’re more cautious though, it’s difficult to say. It was definitely an interesting read, but in the end, I can’t say I’m sure I fully understood it. I’m glad I read it, though, if only because I’d love to seek out more of Julavits’ novels if only for her great writing.