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.