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The Uses of Enchantment

3.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,217 Ratings  ·  223 Reviews
One Autumn day in 1985, sixteen-year-old Mary Veal vanishes from her Massachusetts prep school. A few weeks later she reappears unharmed and with little memory of what happened to her--or at least little that she is willing to share.  Was Mary abducted, or did she fake her disappearance? This question haunts Mary's family, her psychologist, even Mary herself. Weaving toget ...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published January 8th 2008 by Anchor (first published 2001)
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Jason Pettus
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(The much longer full review of this book can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

Okay, I admit it; that the subject of today's review was not scheduled to be read for another three or four books now in my queue list (i.e. the pile of library books and advanced reading copies at the foot of my bed), but was purposely moved up because of recently filing a very bad review here of Nell Freudenberger's The Dissident. And that's because, as a white male co
Feb 26, 2008 rated it liked it
I'm going to say what quite a few other reviewers of this book on goodreads have said, and that's that I wanted to like this book more. It's not that I didn't like it...Julavits is a master of snarky, quick dialogue; this is a complex novel told from various perspectives that circle an incident in a teenage girl's life, and from a writerly standpoint I can only imagine she must have struggled to piece it together. I respect this book, is what I'm trying to say.

But. I felt a little toyed with. I
Jan 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lena by: Shellbell, Jason
Shelves: fiction
At the start of Heidi Julavits' intriguing novel, 16-year old Mary Veal disappears from her private school one afternoon in 1985. Three weeks later, she reappears claiming to have little memory of what happened to her. In the months that follow, numerous psychiatrists attempt to discern whether Mary is a victim of abduction and rape or a liar who engineered her own disappearance for mysterious, sixteen-year old reasons.

Julavits novel switches back and forth between a narrative entitled "What Mig
Chris Blocker
Nov 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a review, a written assessment of a particular product—in this case a book—that is meant to highlight its strengths and inform others of its potential flaws. Reviews can be great: reviews can catch the attention of the consumers, they give tried and true evidence that a product is worth buying (or not buying). This is also the greatest flaw of a review. Send out a message again and again that a product is flawed and the consumers will stop buying, even if that product is truly great.

I fi
Oct 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow, what a huge disappointment. I gave this book one star for the original ideas and promise that the book seemed about to offer.
The writing was stilted, amateur and pretentious. The frequent dull, long winded descriptions of the most innane minutiae, which added nothing to the story served merely as page fillers. It seemed that the author was too absorbed in trying to convince everyone what a great writer she is rather than the truly talented authors who transport their readers into the story
Matthew Snyder
Mar 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book made me feel somewhat uncomfortable and frankly there were times when I just wanted to put it down and never look at it again. It offers up a number of questions and then throws out several answers to them, all of which are seemingly rejected by Julavits through her characters. I kept expecting a breakthrough that never came, an answer that was ultimately never provided... and I don't mean an answer as in a "whodunit," I mean an answer like, what does she suggest that her characters do ...more
Ashley Hart
Nov 17, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, 2011, reread
This is an unusual puzzle of a novel. It's narrated in alternate sections, two of which are in the past, one in the novel's present. The writing is beautiful, but incredibly subtle and requires attention. It's the story of a woman dealing with the estrangement of her family, resulting from her possible abduction when she was a teenager. I found it to be equal parts fascinating and infuriating. Okay, maybe a smidge more infuriating. Freud references and family dysfunction are rampant in this nove ...more
Beth Ann
The book's premise intrigued me. A girl may or may not have faked her own abduction, and if she faked her own abduction, she may have been inspired by another girl, who attended the same school earlier.

The book has three timelines--the "present day" of 1999, the 1986 post-return to her family, and "what may have happened". Each chapter focuses on one timeline, and these timelines alternate, each informing your experience of the other, sometimes a little too neatly.

The author follows the current
May 03, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are a lot of things I despised about this book, and a few things I liked. As a literary endeavor it's solid. It kept my brain entertained and kept me questioning, it felt confusing at points and smart and dreamy at others. It functions somewhat as a giant questioning of whether or not therapy is, as an exercise, a pile of bullshit. Which is an entertaining question for anyone who has ever bothered to visit a therapist for any length of time. But: the fixation on what *might* have happened, ...more
T. Greenwood
The premise of this novel is what drew me in (a girl goes missing and reappears weeks later...claiming no recollection of what happened to her). The strong writing and the alternating perspectives/narratives (the girl now grown up, "What Might Have Happened," and the therapist's notes) were what kept me reading. But ultimately, the characters were miserable people. Every last one of them. And, all of the labyrinthine twists and turns ultimately lead me right back to where I started, I felt disap ...more
Keith Wilson
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Uses of Uncertainty
In 1900, for eleven weeks, Sigmund Freud met with a teenage girl stricken by hysterical mutism. We know this woman by the name Freud gave her, Dora. It wasn’t her real name. Precipitating the symptoms, she had accused an older family friend of making sexual advances to her. The family friend denied it and her father didn’t believe her.

When Dora began to talk, she claimed that her father was having an affair with the friend’s wife. She believed she was being palmed off in r
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I experienced great difficulty getting traction in this book. The characters are all sort of bitchy and bland, cyphers of possibility -- rather like the made-up life, going on behind closed curtains in the windows of the taupe-colored boxes found in the suburbs that the novel explores. Life in the suburbs is too difficult, too gentrified, too non-existent for these characters. Some try and escape through imagination (coupled with burgeoning sexual awakenings): a daughter must engineer her kidnap ...more
Antara Basu-Zych
I was not impressed with this book -- not the story, not the prose, not the structure. A friend recommended the author (albeit a different book) so I think I started with a favorable attitude.

The story is told in three parts about a girl, Mary, who seems to be an average middle child with strange psychological problems possibly due to neglect and lack of attention: the first segment is told from Mary's adult perspective as she comes to terms with her mother's death, the second voice is a narrat
Rori Rischak
A girl disappears for a few weeks. She returns, and the story she has to explain her disappearance is pretty far-fetched. Her sisters don't believe her and resent her because they think it's a ploy for her to get attention.

But as this story alternates between the "present" (in which the main character is an adult and her mother has just died, bringing the sisters back together) and the past, when she was abducted (if you can call it that), I begin to wonder if I really am reading the words of a
Cindy Huffman
Jul 27, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
May 28, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2007
The Uses of Enchantment tells the story of a middle-class suburban teenager, Mary Veal, who mysteriously disappears. When she turns up after a couple of months, she is taken under the wing of a therapist who determines that she faked her own abduction, and writes a book about this "syndrome" in adolescent girls. The story is told from different perspectives--that of the therapist, the present-day teenager (now in her 30s), and chapters entitled "What Might Have Happened," which recount the abduc ...more
Oct 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Ara
Brilliant!!! I enjoyed this novel very much. The author has such a fresh writing style. The story was complex yet written in a way that made reading it a joy. I was able to relate to many aspects of the story on a very personal level, especially Mary's (the main character) relationships with her mother and her sisters. I found it very interesting that Mary felt she was "invisible" and so arranged her "abduction" to basically get attention. Even much later, in her thirties she still had a sense o ...more
Sep 20, 2007 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
sucked real bad (this book does not even warrant the use of proper grammer (or spelling) in my review)

This book was so amazingly boring I still don't know why I finished it. I was hoping it would get better. Don't expect to find out what happens to the main character because you never will. The chapters written from the point of view of her psychiatrist are especially boring if you have no background in that area, because you will have no idea what he is talking about.

If you like to waste time,
Apr 06, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wow. I really hated this book. Not a single character is in any way likable or sympathetic. The only reason I kept reading was out of a vague desire to discover the "truth" -- Was Mary Veal actually abducted many years ago or did she make it all up? The endless psychobabble and unrealistic sessions with her therapist were tiring and boring. Bleck. Don't waste your time with this one.
Fonda Rush
Jun 02, 2017 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jul 29, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Quite masterfully written, with sentences of such wit and snap that laughed out loud more than once. But the nested narrative structure of this tale, with characters telling stories about how we make up stories about what we can't tell stories about? Plus the meta-narrative chapters titled "What Might Have Happened"? Ugh. It all rendered the novel fatally ungrounded and theoretical to me, similar to the way that some of A.M. Holmes' work sails right off the rails into contrivance and bloodless c ...more
Rita Mahan
Feb 07, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Really did not like this book. Characters were awful, not one had a redeeming feature. Found the story all over the place and confusing. The premise sounded great, a teen abducted and later found but no one can get the "real"story....unfortunately very difficult to follow.
Oct 17, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jen Shipon
Her semicolon game was not strong in this one.
Feb 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heidi Julavits has uniquely mastered depiction of the conflict between self-interest and social constraints that drives one to exist perpetually in a state of partial honesty. She is expert at creating scenarios where young women have no best option and where triumph is realistically compromising, even when the premise of the book is deliberately absurd. She did this in The Vanishers with a student fallen from grace at an academy for psychics and even more artfully in The Effect of Living Backwa ...more
Apr 01, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-fiction
So, here is the deal with "The Uses of Enchantment", what I've gotten from most reviews were these; either they love it or they hate it. They understand what happened, or they are just completely dumbfounded on the contents of this book. They felt either satisfied or not.
Now with me- at first I started to go, "oh, my god! When will this story get good and get to the point!" Then I started to go, "You know what, I kind of like this, maybe there will be some satisfaction for me with this one cause
Ben Babcock
This book began with a great deal of promise, but as I got to knew the characters, I liked it less and less.

Heidi Julavits demonstrates how one can avoid using quotation marks to indicate dialogue without confusing the reader, a lesson Ali Smith could stand to learn. The Uses of Enchantment is far superior to The Accidental in use of language and style to create a particular atmosphere and introduce the character. I enjoy how Julavits varies the chapters among "what might have happened," the not
May 07, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

When Mary was 16, she may or may not have been abducted and raped by an older man, whose life was ruined by her accusations.

The Uses of Enchantment, as the title promises, is a seductive book. It unfolds through three interlocking story strands. In the present, Mary and her sisters deal with the fallout of their mother’s death and the shadow that Mary’s story cast over the family, In the past, Mary’s controversial psychiatrist recounts thei
Richard Good
Nov 01, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was mentioned in Donald Maass' "The Fire in Fiction", a book on writing fiction. I picked up this novel as part of a project I have started, using the examples in Donald Maass' book as a reading list. In fact, at a BookBuyers store in Monterey, I found "The Uses of Enchantment" on a shelf with Heidi Julavits' other novels, "The Effect of Living Backwards" and "The Mineral Palace". I couldn't resist taking home the entire trio.

I read all three novels in succession, although this is not
Jan 14, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Ermmm...I really wanted to like this book. I really wanted to be seduced (word carefully chosen for this particular book) by the ideas of witches and adolescent girls who identify with the persecution of witches and all the sexual undercurrents that goes along with being an adolescent girl, especially in a repressive family and repressive (allegedly) part of the country (though I'm hard-pressed to believe New England is sooooOOOOoo much more repressive than, say, you know, most of the rest of th ...more
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Heidi Suzanne Julavits is an American author and co-editor of The Believer magazine. She has been published in The Best Creative Nonfiction Vol. 2, Esquire, Story, Zoetrope All-Story, and McSweeney's Quarterly. Her novels include The Mineral Palace (2000), The Effect of Living Backwards (2003) and The Uses of Enchantment (2006) and The Vanishers (2012).

She was born and grew up in Portland, Maine,
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“Like Semmering Academy, the Grove School was a Gothic pile of bricks run by 1950s-era chalk drones, which maintained its cultural viability by perpetuating a weirdly seductive anxiety throughout its community. Mary herself was a victim of the seduction; despite the trying and repetitive emotional requirements of her job, she remained eternally fascinated by the wicker-thin girls and their wicker-thin mothers, all of them favoring dark wool skirts and macintoshes and unreadably far-away expressions; if she squinted, they could have emerged intact from any of the last seven decades.” 3 likes
“A white girl disappears from a white prep school in a white suburb. Nobody knows what happened to her. The overall whiteness of the world is threatened. This must be resolved by whatever means possible.” 1 likes
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