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The Uses of Enchantment (Vintage Contemporaries) by [Julavits, Heidi]
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3.1 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Echoes and parodies of complex psychosexual antecedents, including Freud's analysis of Dora, the Salem witch trials and parts of The Malleus Maleficarum, underlieJulavits's third novel. The novel's complex structure (it spans 15 years and weaves back and forth in time) creates listening problems that tax even a skilled performer like Shelly Frasier. Mary Veal, who may or may not have been kidnapped as a teen returns to West Salem, Mass., years later for her mother's funeral. Characters sound too similar: Mary sounds too much like her teen self and the two male characters, Mary's first therapist and the alleged kidnapper have almost identical voices. The same problem conflates Mary's sisters, Regina and Gaby. Frasier does a better job with Mary's well-to-do Aunt Helen and Roz Biedelman, Mary's second therapist, who is the manipulative spider at the center of this tangled web of a novel. Enchantment might be too much for any single reader to tackle, and a cast approach would have been a better idea. However, Frasier is an engaging performer, and the spell of this beguiling work will entrance listeners to the very end. A Doubleday hardcover (Reviews, July 10, 2006). (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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.
Copyright © 2006 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

Product Details

  • File Size: 801 KB
  • Print Length: 370 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1400078113
  • Publisher: Anchor (January 8, 2008)
  • Publication Date: January 8, 2008
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00125L8CQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #845,360 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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