Foreword

Previewing the 2006 Texas Book Festival

Foreword

The Uses of Enchantment

by Heidi Julavits

Doubleday, 368 pp., $24.95

The title may conjure something a little pretty-pony – or, more to the point, Bruno Bettelheim's appreciation of fairy tales – but Heidi Julavits' Gordian rendering of a maybe-abduction in 1985 West Salem counters as a dark, even hostile, take on the devastating power of the adolescent female. The conflicting account of the evening 17-year-old Mary Veal disappears and the weeks that pass before she resurfaces – claiming she was put under a spell and kidnapped – is explored, in alternating chapters and time frames: via her dubious therapist's notes; her own adult version, on the eve of her estranged mother's funeral; and dreamlike passages filed (rather unhelpfully) under "What Might Have Happened," in which Mary and her would-be captor are presented as the girl and the man.

In her acknowledgements, Julavits cheekily cops to an agenda ("I would like to acknowledge the therapists whose priceless inspiration was purchased at great hourly cost"), and indeed, the mental-health industry gets a beating in the form of its representatives, the feminist Roz Biedelman and her hacky reclamation therapy (in which patients learn to "reclaim" the narrative of their lives) and Mary's therapist, Dr. Hammer, who spies publication potential in Mary's case. The Uses of Enchantment's scope is impressively far-reaching, drawing from the Salem witch trials and Freud's Dora: A Fragment of an Analysis of a Case in Hysteria, and Julavits' eye for the odd detail can be eloquently rendered, although the authenticity of voice is sometimes sacrificed for a nice turn of phrase ("her knees wipering back and forth ... a constellation of blemishes worried into scabs" is lovely language, to be sure, but rather jars when delivered by Mary's unsentimental, Freudian lapdog of a therapist).

Mary's characterization suffers from a certain muzziness (a symptom of having no less than five incarnations, I think), leaving instead a deftly drawn orbit of women to take the stage – a boozy aunt, vicious sisters, New England spinsters, and dear old dead Mum, who'd rather her daughter be branded a liar than a rape victim. Julavits is at her truculent best when plumbing the ways in which these women influence and "infect" one another.


Saturday, Oct. 28, 8pm

Gallery at the Continental Club

The Lolita Update: The Romantic Devastations of Youth in Fiction

Mark Binelli, Mark Z. Danielewski, Cristina Henriquez, Heidi Julavits, Marisha Pessl; Emcee: Sarah Hepola

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More by Kimberley Jones
We Have an Issue: Honoring RBG
We Have an Issue: Honoring RBG
The stakes have raised even higher for the most consequential election in a lifetime

Sept. 25, 2020

We Have an Issue: “The Light That’s Leaving”
We Have an Issue: “The Light That’s Leaving”
On Bill Callahan’s likably melancholy new record, and another month of painful closures of Austin fixtures

Sept. 18, 2020

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle