Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Kim's Review of The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits

354 pages, hardcover, library
published in 2006
started 3/9/07, finished 3/13/07

First Sentence: " The following might have happened on a late-fall afternoon in the Boston suburb of West Salem."

Reason for reading: for the NYT Notable Books Challenge

WARNING: If you have not read this book, there may be spoilers in this review. Read at your own risk!

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 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 career, 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 to her mother, she suspects her mother had planned a reconciliation before her death. Thus begins a quest that requires Mary to revisit the people and places in her past.

This was a very confusing, but very intriguing book. I kept thinking I was missing something the entire time because while I understood the surface story, I just wasn't "getting" it. And I still don't understand most of what happens in the book, which is why I can't wait for someone else to read it so we can discuss. Each chapter falls into 3 sections: "What Might Have Happened" (which focuses on Mary's "abduction" in 1985), "Notes" (which focus on Mary's therapy sessions with Dr. Hammer following her "abduction") and "West Salem" (which is the present day). I found I enjoyed Mary's therapy appointments with Dr. Hammer the most and the "abduction" story the least. I keep putting abduction in quotes because I am still not exactly clear on what happened and who is actually narrating those parts of the book. Is this Mary's actual version of what happened, her fantasy of what happened or even Dr. Hammer's version of what he thinks happened? It is all very confusing and almost dream-like. I found I could not connect with Mary at all and I found her rather annoying most of the time. She did not take any responsibility for her actions then didn't understand why people couldn't forgive her. All in all, I have no idea what to think of this book, although I found it somewhat intriguing at the same time. This is a tough one to recommend.

Favorite part:During one of Mary's therapy sessions with Dr. Hammer, they do a role reversal, with Mary playing the Doctor and Dr. Hammer playing Mary. It was a very interesting and entertaining exchange.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5


kookiejar said...

Sounds intriguing. Gonna have to pick this one up. Good review, Kim.

Lisa said...

definitely sounds intriguing to me, since I'm a therapist. Although this is actually my real life, never really knowing if what is being presented to me is the truth or an invention in the mind of the client!

hmmmm, do I really want to read something that is kind of like what I already do in real life???? :)

Great review!

Loose Baggy Monster said...

This sounds interesting! It wasn't on my original list, but I won't let that stop me. Great review!

Kim said...

Thanks! I hope you end up reading it eventually as I really need another opinion on this one!

Oh, I would be interested to hear your thoughts if you read this book! I think being a therapist would definitely be an advantage in reading it...I would also like to know what you think of the therapist in the book. He is an interesting character, to say the least!

Thanks! I like when I can change people's minds like that :0)