The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits

When Mary was 16, she may or may not have been abducted and raped by an older man, whose life was ruined by her accusations.

The Uses of Enchantment, as the title promises, is a seductive book. It unfolds through three interlocking story strands. In the present, Mary and her sisters deal with the fallout of their mother’s death and the shadow that Mary’s story cast over the family, In the past, Mary’s controversial psychiatrist recounts their obliquely tumultuous sessions, while charting his own journey towards the best selling book he’d ultimately write to discredit Mary. And in “What might have happened,” the tale of Mary’s kidnapping spools out somewhere between fantasy and nightmare–though not exactly for Mary.

I really enjoyed reading this book, though I’m not entirely convinced it was a complete experience. Julavits, like many strong writers, tends to underwrite and leave a lot to the reader to fill in. I appreciate being invited into the story like this, yet I felt there were some places where the book felt half-baked. Not that everything needs to be spelled out, but there were certain key connections that she didn’t allow me to make until much too late, and that ended up distancing me from the narrative.

The biggest area of underdevelopment was in the connection between Mary and Bettina Spencer, another girl from Mary’s school who had a similar disappearance. It seemed like the psychiatrist was drawing strong connections between the cases based on evidence that Julavits never supplies to the reader. It’s frustrating. Julavits absolutely could’ve preserved her atmosphere and still provided us with some more story information.

2 thoughts on “The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits”

  1. I recently read “What the Dead Know” – along the same lines. It was pretty good – probably not award-worthy, but an enjoyable, gripping read.

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