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The Uses of Enchantment: A Novel Hardcover – October 17, 2006

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385513232
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385513234
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,561,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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, Regina (an unsuccessful poet) and Gaby (a disheveled lesbian) 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. (Oct.)
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From The New Yorker

The author's third novel is a spooky coming-of-age tale set in West Salem, Massachusetts, a town whose witch-hanging history both captivates and circumscribes the lives of the teen-age girls who reside there. One afternoon in 1985, sixteen-year-old Mary Veal disappears from field-hockey practice at the austere Semmering Academy; she reappears a few weeks later claiming to have been abducted. The truth of what happened is only hinted at in Mary's sexually charged experiences with her supposed captor and in her provocative exchanges with the therapist assigned to her case. He decides that Mary is lying - aspects of her story seem taken from a previous student's faked abduction, itself inspired by a centuries-old fable involving a kidnapped girl and witchcraft - but, it turns out, he is not without his own agenda. Julavits expertly keeps the reader baffled until the end, but beneath the mystery is a sophisticated meditation on truth and bias.
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More About the Author

Heidi Julavits was born and raised in Portland, Maine. Her short stories have appeared in Harper's, Esquire, the Best American Short Stories, McSweeney's, among other places. Her nonfiction has appeared in Harper's, the New York Times, Elle, Bookforum, and the Best American Travel Essays. She is a founding co-editor of The Believer magazine, the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a finalist for the New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and winner of the PEN/New England Fiction Award. She currently teaches at Columbia University. She lives in Manhattan and Maine with her husband, Ben Marcus, and their two children.

Customer Reviews

There are no spoiler alerts here.
The unlikability of the characters didn't particularly bother me, except for the completely unbelievable person of Roz.
a reader
There are some jolting surprises in the last quarter of the story.
Linda Pagliuco

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Movie Buff on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I purchased this book based on a favorable review but came away disappointed but the unlikable characters, clever yet unbelievable dialogue and ambiguous ending.

The plot: Mary Veal returns home to attend the funeral of her mother and reconnect with her estranged family. The book flashbacks to two significant events in her life: the first, when she hops into a stranger's car and embarks on a journey of arranged abduction/seduction with her captor. The second is her time in therapy with Dr. Hammer. Mary claims amnesia about the incident but the doctor doesn't believe her and sees his patient as a way to advance his career and reputation.

The book is a difficult read, primarily because not one of the characters is likeable in any way. While the three male characters (Mary's father, captor, and therapist) are weak men damaged by past events, the author reserves most of her scorn for the women in her book. There are stereotypical frosty women (Mary's mother and sisters, Miss Pym), manipulators (Roz Biedelman, Bettina Spencer) and drunks (Aunt Helen). But the most unlikable character is Mary herself - who not only fails to take responsibility for what she has done but, like the child she remains, doesn't understand why everyone is so hostile towards her.

The book jacket teases that the events of Mary's youth will be gradually revealed - which is simply not true. The question of whether the "abduction" was real or imagined is never a mystery (The author lets you know pretty early on how Mary came to disappear). Rather, by the time you reach the confusing ending there are a host of unanswered questions: What was her relationship with her family before the incident? Why did Mary choose to go with the stranger? What happened during the time of her captivity?
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Edie Sousa on December 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I see this book made the Times list of Notable Books for 2006. I wish I understood why. I get annoyed with books that make me feel like an inadequate or uncomprehending reader, which is what this book did. Too clever by half. I had a sense that the author had a blast constructing this tale--but I was exhausted by the time I finished it. And why, in a book that is so dialogue-driven, must we sacrifice quotation marks? Such a simple device--and it would have helped immeasurably. I'm sure that if I went back and reread the book, many more pieces would fall into place. But I shouldn't have to do that--and I have other things I'm dying to read. I recommend this book only if you have large, uninterrupted blocks of reading time so that you can ponder all the references, both within and without the text. I just didn't enjoy having to work so hard (and I'm not sure whether or not she was abducted either!)
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Anne on February 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Although I'd had a bad experience with one of Julavits' previous novels (THE MINERAL PALACE), the subject matter of her latest effort, THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT, caught my attention and I decided to have another go. This time around, I must say that Julavits has grown as a writer and I found this novel much more interesting, if not completely satisfying.

What really happened to Mary Veal, a Boston high school girl descended from a Salem witch and purportedly kidnapped by a sexual predator? The reader never knows for sure and the convention of the unreliable narrator (in this case, narrators) is perfect for a novel that ventures into the fascinating and politically incorrect territory of inexperienced feminine aggression, potentially make-believe sexual abuse, maternal lies and feminist psychotherapy. Julavits is at her best skewering feminist pieties in the satirically drawn character of Dr. Roz Biedelman. Also intriguing is Julvits' layering of Mary's tale with possible psychological forerunners: the hysteric Dora as interpreted by Freud; Bettina Spencer, an earlier "victim" of a faked abduction from the same high school Mary attended; and, of course, Abigail Lake, Mary's falsely accused Salem ancestor.

The narrative evolves in three parts: "What Might Have Happened" when Mary was abducted from her school in 1986; the ghosts from the past Mary must confront when she returns to Boston for her mother's funeral in 1999; and the notes taken by her psychiatrist, Dr. Hammer, whose name makes obvious reference to the 15th-century witch-hunter's manual, the Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches).

The most satisfying element of THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT is Julavits' play on historical and current ideas of female sexuality. But this is also where it begins to fall down.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By ttdish on December 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book started out pretty well, I was,at first, really interested in it and it hooked me in. However, I quickly became annoyed at the pages and pages of psychological rhetoric. Between Mary and her therapist, between Mary and the "mystery abductor" who may or may not have been real. Between Mary's Mother or Aunt or whoever it really was who visited Mary's therapist. Overall the book was so confusing and none of the characters were likable at all. Not her sisters, not her father, not her Aunt, not her Mother and certainly not Mary. I still have absolutely no idea if she was abducted or not. I would not recommend this book. This is the first time I have ever written one of these reviews but I felt compelled because I feel I was tricked into buying this book by the fantastic editorial reviews. I'm sorry but how can you say in a review that the truth is "slowly revealed to us" please tell me where in the book we are told with any certainly what really happened? How frustrating that is to a reader.
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