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The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
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The Uses of Enchantment (2006)

by Heidi Julavits

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3601730,197 (3.07)13
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  1. 00
    In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O'Brien (kinsey_m)
    kinsey_m: Julavits mentioned that this book inspired the structure of the Uses of Enchantment
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Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
This is a review, a written assessment of a particular product—in this case a book—that is meant to highlight its strengths and inform others of its potential flaws. Reviews can be great: reviews can catch the attention of the consumers, they give tried and true evidence that a product is worth buying (or not buying). This is also the greatest flaw of a review. Send out a message again and again that a product is flawed and the consumers will stop buying, even if that product is truly great.

I first came across The Uses of Enchantment seven years ago while shelving books at the library. The cover enticed me immediately. The appearance of a hole burnt in the dust jacket, the colors, the beautiful hair, the font (great work on the cover of this one, cover designer peoples!) The novel's description completely pulled me in. Then I noticed other books by the same author on the shelf, and I read their descriptions and I knew, right then, I had found a new favorite author.

Except when I got home and added the book to my Goodreads there was a huge red flag: The Uses of Enchantment had a rating that was barely rising above 3.0. And Julavits' other books weren't doing much better. The reviews blasted the book; there were so many one to three star ratings. The reviews were peppered with phrases like “I hated this book” and “what a waste of time.” And so I did what any intelligent consumer would do—I put the book on my “I'll probably never read this, but I'll keep it on my shelf because it's so pretty” shelf. My putting aside this book had nothing to do with following the masses, it had to do with experience. When I look back at the books I have read which have the lowest overall ratings, I must say that I disliked most of them. Prior to The Uses of Enchantment, the only book with a rating less than 3.25 that I absolutely loved was Rowling's polarizing The Casual Vacancy. I had too many other “good” books to read to waste time on something I'd probably hate. Yet, that small voice of hope from seven years ago would nag at me occasionally, telling me I'd never know if I didn't give it a try. Finally, I gave in.

I'm not quite sure why I finally decided to give The Uses of Enchantment a go, but I'm glad I did. The book was phenomenal. It's possible that my super low expectations buoyed the book considerably, but I don't believe so; I think I would've liked this novel regardless of the reviews. First of all, the prose is amazing. Julavits writes with such beauty. I was reminded of two other authors whose work I enjoy but who also receive many poor reviews: Hannah Pittard and Meg Wolitzer. Perhaps there is something in the style of these authors that repulses some readers, but whatever it is, I want more of it. When I ponder the negative comments of others, and the complaints I personally disagree with, I think mostly of comments about “how boring” these works are, how “nothing happens,” or how “unresolved” they are. I would agree that not much happens in these books, and in the case of Pittard's first novel the lack of “anything” happening was the only barrier to a five-star review, but I would argue that enough happens, especially in the characters themselves. And perhaps that is the distinction here. Are these novel's largely character and language driven? I would say, yes. Apparently too much so for many readers. Personally, I find novels with absolutely no plot boring as well, but light plot is acceptable. Add some great character development and some wonderfully spun sentences and I'm hooked.

As far as the argument that The Uses of Enchantment is unresolved, I disagree. Does the reader get a clear answer as to what happened or didn't happen? No, not really. But I think it can be deduced what likely occurred, and this is good enough for me. Study the psychology of these characters, pay attention to this “wronged-woman project” the school participates in, and I think that not only does the “what might have happened” fall into place, but also the importance of it not mattering. The brilliance of the novel is in the not knowing. What about Dora? Mary is asking. What about Bettina Spencer? What about all of us women who have been wrongly accused? Does it matter if all our facts fall into line, or is it enough that we are simply hurting? That's what I walked away with anyhow. And I applaud Julavits for a well-orchestrated story.

So, take it from me, kids. Ratings can good, but they also be a tool of the devil. I mean, come on, this poignant story of a confused adolescent girl is worth only 3.04 stars, but Twilight, a story about an adolescent girl who plays baseball with vampires because she's so disturbed, wracks up 3.56 stars? Heed the advice of a book snob: Ratings are of the devil! ( )
  chrisblocker | Dec 9, 2014 |
I love this book, in particular the "what may have happened" sections, but also how it all ties together. Another thing that I like, is that when I picked it for the firts time I wasn't so sure if I was going to like it, I thought: "ok, once more the girl becomes a victim", but this was not the case at all (the same thing happened the first time I saw Juno, although they are quite different).

Previous reviweres have mentioned that they liked better the earlier version of Mary, that she was more interesting. Which is true. Nevertheless, if Mary had grown up and continued to do the same things she did as a teenager, she'd be a completely different person (without empathy for anyone's feelings, needing to be always the centre of attention). Instead, she is atoning for her past actions, and is trying to go unnoticed. As her aunt says at some point: "you were a teenager, you didn't know that anyone else existed". This fact, that as she grows up she discovers that other people exist and that her actions have consequences, is what makes Mary human and somehow more well-balanced that some of the adults in the book, even if not as adventurous as her younger self. ( )
  kinsey_m | Nov 6, 2013 |
Much like the last book I read, I don't like the characters, or maybe even the story. But I keep reading everything this woman writes, because though it's depressing/annoying, she's really good at writing about how fucked up people are and thoroughly people can fuck each other up. It's smartly written, with some kind of brilliant descriptions.
  omnia_mutantur | Nov 30, 2011 |
As a more patient reviewer below puts it:

"...30-year old Mary just wasn't as compelling a character as her younger self, and her interactions with her bitchy sisters and other parts of her past dragged at times. While the analyst notes depicting the cat-and-mouse game Mary played with the therapist who was hoping to resurrect his career off of his theories about her were ... maddening at times."

And the therapist's notes should be easy to make interesting, imo.

And yet this comment makes me *almost* want to give the book another try:

"... she was one of those people who are like biological blank slates, who pick up and reflect the traits of the people who are around her at any given moment. That's what makes her story so interesting, and why her two very public betrayals in those years (first agreeing with Hammer that she had lied, then agreeing with Biedelman that she had lied about lying) so fascinating instead of scummy, even though one of the lies leads to a psychiatrist getting unfairly disbarred from his industry; because in the teenage Mary's eyes, she is simply agreeing to whatever it is that the people around her want her to be." ( )
  Periodista | Sep 25, 2009 |
There is a lot going on in this book. The story centers on Mary, a girl who was reportedly abducted for one month in 1985, returning to her family with no memory of the time she was gone. The book hints to the events that might have occurred during that time (mainly the interesting relationship between Mary and the man we are led to believe was behind her disappearance), as well as the therapy sessions Mary was forced to endure in her mother’s attempts to determine whether she was actually abducted or not and whether she really remembers what happened during the month she was missing. The book also moves to the present and focuses on Mary’s relationship with her two sisters at the time of their mother’s death in 1999. To me, the book is about different perceptions of reality (what Mary leads people to believe happened and what really did happen), the psychology of repressed memories, and how what was left unsaid about the month Mary was gone and the importance placed on that time by her mother affected the rest of the family.

The book was interesting, but parts of it dragged, and I thought the passages about the therapy sessions were all over the place and somewhat confusing. I bet if I read it again, I’d pick up on things I missed the first time, but it’s not a book I’d rush to read over. ( )
  annaeccentric | Jul 15, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0385513232, Hardcover)

In late afternoon on November 7, 1985, sixteen-year-old Mary Veal was abducted after field hockey practice at her all-girls New England prep school.

Or was she?

A few weeks later an unharmed Mary reappears as suddenly and mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming to have little memory of what happened to her. Her socially ambitious mother, a compelling if frosty woman descended from a Salem witch, is concerned that Mary has somehow been sullied by the experience and sends her to therapy with a psychologist named Dr. Hammer.

Mary turns out to be a cagey and difficult patient. Dr. Hammer begins to suspect thatMary concocted her tale of abduction when he discovers its parallels with a seventeenth-century narrative of a girl who was abducted by Indians and who caused her rescuer to be hanged as a witch. Hammer, eager to further his professional reputation, decides to write a book about Mary’s faked abduction, a project her mother sanctions, because she'd rather her daughter be a liar than a rape victim.

Fifteen years later, Mary has returned to Boston for her mother's funeral. Her abduction—real or imagined—has tainted many lives, including her own. When Mary finds a suggestive letter sent to her mother, she suspects her mother planned a reconciliation before her death. Thus begins a quest that requires Mary to revisit the people and places in her past.

The Uses of Enchantment weaves a spell in which the reader sees how the extraordinary power of a young woman’s sexuality, and the desire to wield it, have a devastating effect on all involved. The riveting cat-and-mouse power games between doctor and patient, and between abductor and abductee, are gradually, dreamily revealed, along with the truth about what actually happened in 1985.

Heidi Julavits is in full command of her considerable gifts and has crafted a dazzling narrative sure to garner her further acclaim as one of the best novelists working today.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:29:01 -0400)

"In late afternoon on November 7, 1985, sixteen-year-old Mary Veal was abducted after field hockey practice at her all-girls hockey practice at her all-girls New England prep school. Or was she?" "A few weeks later an unharmed Mary reappears as suddenly and mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming to have little memory of what happened to her. Her socially ambitious mother, a compelling if frosty woman descended from a Salem witch, is concerned that Mary has somehow been sullied by the experience and sends her to therapy with a psychologist named Dr. Hammer." "Mary turns out to be a cagey and difficult patient. Dr. Hammer begins to suspect that Mary concocted her tale of abduction when he discovers its parallels with a seventeenth-century narrative of a girl who was abducted by Indians and who caused her rescuer to be hanged as a witch. Hammer, eager to further his professional reputation, decides to write a book about Mary's faked abduction, a project her mother sanctions because she'd rather her daughter be a liar than a rape victim." "Fifteen years later, Mary has returned to Boston for her mother's funeral. Her abduction - real or imagined - has tainted many lives, including her own. When Mary finds a suggestive letter sent to her mother, she suspects her mother planned a reconciliation before her death. Thus begins a quest that requires Mary to revisit the people and places in her past." "The Uses of Enchantment weaves a spell in which the reader sees how the extraordinary power of a young woman's sexuality, and the desire to wield it, have a devastating effect on all involved. The riveting cat-and-mouse power games between doctor and patient, and between abductor and abductee, are gradually, dreamily revealed, along with the truth about what actually happened in 1985."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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