A dour heroine tracks her psychic attacker in this dark latest from Julavits (The Uses of Enchantment, 2006, etc.).
At New Hampshire’s Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, Julia Severn is selected to record Madame Ackerman’s words as she roams the cosmos. But Madame Ackerman’s “regressions” are actually extended naps, so Julia begins inventing psychic revelations. Shortly after Julia envisions actual information sought by a client of Ackerman’s, who is trying to find controversial filmmaker Dominique Varga, she becomes so ill she has to leave the Institute. A year later, mysterious new acquaintance Colophon Martin tells Julia she is the victim of psychic attacks by Madame Ackerman. Her only solution is to avail herself of the services of his company, vanish.org, which helps people disappear from untenable lives. Colophon offers to help Julia because he’s that former client of Madame Ackerman’s; Julia’s psychic abilities have been suppressed by her ailments, and he needs her to get well to find Varga, who disappeared in 1984. Julia’s willing, because her anxious father has revealed that her mother, an artist who committed suicide when Julia was one month old, knew Varga, who “made your mother believe death could be an artistic act.” The connections only grow more sinister (and far-fetched) after Julia checks in to the Goergen, a refuge in Vienna for vanishers of various sorts. What is the true identity of the fellow resident who claims to be “Hungarian skin care royalty?” Is Madame Ackerman behind the emails Julia keeps getting from “aconcernedfriend”? What happened in Room 13, 152 West 53rd Street, on October 24, 1984? Julia’s ailments recede, and her psychic powers grow, but she still seems clueless as the story lumbers towards an extremely elaborate denouement culminating in a confrontation with Madame Ackerman. A searing final section very nearly redeems all this clutter, as Julia returns to New Hampshire to unmask the real culprit and to make the grimmest sort of settlement with her dead mother.
Intelligent and ambitious, but also heavy-handed and alienating.