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THE USES OF ENCHANTMENT

Potent and intoxicating: a dangerously seductive book.

A twisting, Rashomon-like novel about a high-school girl who vanishes for several weeks, then returns, to accusations that she faked her abduction.

On Nov. 7, 1985, 16-year-old Mary Veal slipped away from field-hockey practice at her posh suburban Boston school. On New Year’s Eve, she reappeared, sitting on a bench near the athletic fields, claiming to have been abducted. Forced into therapy by her domineering mother, Mary faces her toughest challenge yet. The book begins omniscient in a glimpse entitled “What Might Have Happened.” The story then deftly shifts from Mary’s life in 1999 to that of Dr. Hammer, her therapist in 1986. As the three voices alternate, Julavits slowly reveals the totality of Mary’s experience. Hammer’s perspective is clinical, but Mary is no ordinary patient. In Mary’s therapy sessions, we see the power of a girl in bloom. Mary is petulant, frustrated, caged. Hammer opines that she is extremely intelligent and crafty. There are substantial similarities to an earlier case involving another girl from the same school, ultimately proven to be false. Mary’s mother, Paula, the proud offspring of a Salem witch, lives up to her family heritage by condemning Mary’s act as one of pure defiance. For Paula Veal, damage control for the family reputation is far more important. Hammer goes on to author a bestselling book about a hypothetical Miriam, a young girl with a pathological gift for imagination. Mary’s disappearance seems to begin and end as fiction. Branded a liar, she becomes a pariah. In 1999, however, Mary has returned home for the funeral of her mother. As ghosts from her past swirl around her, she begins a ritual that opens up dark places. What really happened in 1985 is a fragment of a much larger story. An older, wiser Mary is now ready to confront her demons. Julavits (The Effects of Living Backwards, 2003, etc.), a founding editor of The Believer, perfectly captures the siren call of adolescent women, and the aftermath of those who are lured in.

Potent and intoxicating: a dangerously seductive book.

Pub Date: Oct. 17, 2006

ISBN: 0-385-51323-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2006

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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