Read The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits Online


Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death? Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns,Is the bond between mother and daughter unbreakable, even by death? Julia Severn is a student at an elite institute for psychics. Her mentor, the legendary Madame Ackermann, afflicted by jealousy, refuses to pass the torch to her young disciple. Instead, she subjects Julia to the humiliation of reliving her mother's suicide when Julia was an infant. As the two lock horns, and Julia gains power, Madame Ackermann launches a desperate psychic attack that leaves Julia the victim of a crippling ailment.Julia retreats to a faceless job in Manhattan. But others have noted Julia's emerging gifts, and soon she's recruited to track down an elusive missing person—a controversial artist who might have a connection to her mother. As Julia sifts through ghosts and astral clues, everything she thought she knew of her mother is called into question, and she discovers that her ability to know the minds of others—including her own—goes far deeper than she ever imagined.   As powerful and gripping as all of Julavits's acclaimed novels, The Vanishers is a stunning meditation on grief, female rivalry, and the furious power of a daughter's love.From the acclaimed novelist HEIDI JULAVITS, a wildly imaginative and emotionally intense novel about mothers, daughters, and the psychic damage women can inflict on one another....

Title : The Vanishers
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780385523813
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 284 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Vanishers Reviews

  • Oriana
    2019-03-24 03:18

    Well this was just riveting. A lush, pell-mell rush of a book filled with exquisite language that just tugs and tugs you forth. The kind of book you invent excuses to read—just one more cigarette, just twenty more minutes abed before turning off the light, taking the local train instead of the express for more uninterrupted reading time. I almost want to read it again right away, just to fill in all the gaps more clearly. I admit I am very surprised to have been so captivated and enamored. I read The Effects of Living Backwards a year or so ago, and was defeated by its twists and feints and overwrittenness. I found Heidi ultimately too smart for her own good, the book too ambitious, or perhaps myself too casual of a reader to really catch all the subtleties and put all the pieces together. And yet. Heidi is the editor of The Believer, and I got this book in a proof for $2, and I am largely happy to trust my reading choices to the whims of fate—what I find on the street, what I score for cheap at a used book shop. And so here we are. The Vanishers is in some ways a scaled-back version of Living Backwards. It is definitely twisty, constantly circling back on itself, and filled with quick reveals that you miss if you're an uncareful reader (which I am). But it's much more manageable, with a smallish cast of sharply memorable characters, and the pacing is more or less perfect—just enough time spent on atmospherics vs dialogue vs philosophizing vs plot. It's hard to talk more clearly about it without spoilering, but this is a story about psychics (the academic kind, not the cliché kind who read palms on a street corner for five bucks). It's a story about dead mothers and toxic friends and feminism and suicide and porn art films. It takes place in many places: calm rural New England, fast frantic NYC, recovery sanitarium spas in Sweeden. It's about astral projections and psychic wolves, but also about clawed necklaces and sinkholes and paparazzi and betrayals and menacing Barcelona chairs. It's filled with gaspably perfect descriptions tossed off with a casualness that's difficult to believe. It's just absolutely stunning.

  • Paquita Maria Sanchez
    2019-03-08 06:11

    I have this picture in my head of Heidi Julavits and Ben Marcus in the morning, one in the shower, the other at the sink with toothbrush in hand, talking through the curtain about what popular themes they can prey on in order to write smart, weird, prose-driven lit fic that drives genre fans insane.Ben: "I was thinking, ya know, this whole dystopias and zombies end-of-the-world thing is really hot right now. I bet I could write something in that vein which would reach a fairly large audience given my modest level of name-recognition, and then my beautiful novel can get disproportionately shredded all over the internet because it's too wordy and cerebral and slow-paced to ever be Michael Bay material."Heidi: "That sounds nice, honey. I'm thinking...the paranormal is all over television these days. Even the History Channel has ghost-hunter 'reality' shows, if you can believe that. What if I took the psychic craze and set it to a mother-daughter relationships theme. Ya know, like White Oleander with telepaths. Except the plot will be totally discombobulating, the mother will never exist on the novel's earthly plain, but rather will be refracted in the mirrors of a handful of other infuriatingly enigmatic female characters, and most of the joy in reading the novel won't be watching the plot clearly resolve itself (because it won't, not really), but in witnessing my sharp observational skills regarding human behavior and my almost nonchalant illustrative prowess. A bunch of crazy stuff will happen which you can't make sense of because the narrator is totally unreliable, and everyone will be selfish, cold, and closed-off to the end. The paranormal won't really be explored, and female/female won't come to any heart-warming, inspirational epiphanies or rise above their differences. And then my beautiful novel can get meh'd all over the internet, which is almost more insulting than outright hatred."It's on!Basically, if this book sounds from the blurb like something you would like, a mother-daughter relationship tale with psychics, it's very possible that you will really hate this. If it sounds like something you would hate, you may love it. Though it dragged in a section for me, I found it to generally be quite a crisp, breezy, dryly humorous and astute imaginarium of lady-on-lady cruelty and the emotional conundrums involved in mourning someone you were supposed to love but never knew, or someone you used to love but haven't been invested in for a very long time; of how confusing it can be to not feel, to not be able to feel, in socially expected ways about technically big, important things for this or that inescapable reason; and how sometimes, messy relationships just stay that way because that's what they are: totally fucked up, forever. Because reality.

  • Lolly K Dandeneau
    2019-03-18 05:52

    Confusing and I had to trudge through it. I usually love anything with a paranormal bend to it. It sounded like an amazing read, and it wasn't bad but it just didn't reach a level of pleasure for me that I find in other books of this genre. The storyline was a great idea, no doubt about that but I am still coming out of a brain fog on this one. I can't say I liked it, and yet I can't quite put my finger on the exact reason. It wasn't confusing in the sense it was too clever, too complex, more that I just felt like I was being lead somewhere promising only to find out when I got there it was closed. I did enjoy the rivalry and the 'psychic attack' and the vanishers ideally. Ideally...

  • Eileen
    2019-02-26 03:02

    There's a lot that I really liked and admired about this book, most notably, its originality, imaginative prose and pitch-perfect humor. The first section of the book blew me away—I was so excited to read the rest. And then I did. That's when I felt increasingly stupid for feeling so lost as to what was going on. I knew enough to understand that the protagonist, Julia, a gifted psychic, was experiencing events that blurred the edges of time and place and real vs. imaginary. I don't mind having to work to understand a non-linear/unconventional story. And yet if one has to work too hard just to figure out where one is in the story and who's who...and if one of the protagonist's big a-ha moment leaves readers (like me) scratching their heads... then something isn't entirely working. I think there was a deeper story to be told that got muddied by a few too many bizarre characters. A little bit more simplicity in the story would have enhanced its overall impact.The writing style, though, was superb and I will look to read another book by Julavits again.

  • Kate Woods Walker
    2019-03-15 23:09

    Mother-daughter conflict—especially the scorched-earth type that erupts from truly horrible mothering—is such a promising, sweeping theme. And, as an admirer of Heidi Julavits’s The Uses of Enchantment, I was eager to devour this, her latest take on the eternal maternal. Sadly, The Vanishers doesn’t deliver.Julavits creates a surreal, feminine world with the story of motherless psychic Julia Severn, one in which institutions like The Workshop (where psychics go to get their advanced training) and the Goergen (a hotel for the beleaguered and botoxed) are as unremarkable as a seemingly unending stream of absurd characters and situations.As we make our way through a maze of unreal, dreamlike situations, we encounter wisps of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, wolf and witch imagery aplenty, mistaken identities and misdirected rage, and more than a few hilarious turns of phrase, searing descriptions and pertinent questions. Unfortunately, we also are plunged eyebrow-deep in self-indulgent, impenetrable plot detours, confusing characterizations and enough self-conscious literary tonnage to fill a sinkhole the size of New Hampshire.If it’s story you want, go elsewhere. If it’s insight into the female condition, there’s a bit here (enough to fill a magazine essay, perhaps). If you’re craving another too-clever, smug, thinly-disguised look at art and academia, then this is the book for you.

  • Brian Feltovich
    2019-03-09 01:51

    Struggling with this one. Some lovely prose and an inventive idea for a plot, but if I step away for more than ten minutes I can't remember who is doing what and why we care.

  • Angela
    2019-03-26 03:15

    The Vanishers an eccentric, eclectic novel that takes the kinds of themes one usually sees in an Amy Tan* novel, dips them in acid, and rolls them in a crunchy sci-fi topping. Julia is a student at a sort of university for psychics in a world where this seems to be largely taken seriously as a profession. She begins to realize that her favorite professor, a mentoring figure who has hired her to do "stenography," or dictation during her psychic trances, is less psychically capable than she is, and when she stumbles across the information her professor is going into these trances to try to find, she passes it off as the professor's own. Eventually, Julia comes to understand, the professor figures out what is going on, drives Julia from the school, and sends her on a quest for health and recovery that takes her around the globe.Psychic jargon aside, this is a novel about mothers and daughters and what fills the void when one or the other is lost. I didn't necessarily see any universal truths or particular wisdom about these relationships, though, and the plot is sometimes too conveniently resolved without its protagonist doing much for herself. Continually Julia tells us that if she had known better she would not have befriended so-and-so, accepted an offer, met someone somewhere...and while she learns things any reasonable person would rather not know about his or her own mother, or meets someone who lies to her, there never seems to be any real danger of a resolution that is less pleasant than the health problems she endured back home in Manhattan. Through the book we begin to doubt Julia's perception of the world around her, and whether the people around her are alive and breathing or more "astral imprints," and this keeps things interesting; it's too bad that the main mysteries of the book, namely the reasoning behind the suicides and "vanishings" (which are billed as an oddball entrepreneur's way of allowing would-be suicidal people the alternative of creating a new life for themselves somewhere else, an interesting idea that seems to largely ignore what we know about mental health), go largely unexplored. And by unexplored, I mean such flippant and ridiculous conclusions as her explaining a suicide with, to paraphrase, "anyone would kill themselves if they had a mother like that." Julia's psychic revelations are almost exclusively inadvertent, making her a pretty weak protagonist who doesn't make decisions or take actions on her own very much, and yet things mostly work out. When she's offered a lectureship one wonders what kind of an expert she could possibly be when she can't even control these incidents herself. In any case, The Vanishers starts out strong, quick-moving, and convincing. Julia's unreliable narration and threatening surroundings give the plot a suspenseful edge, and I have a possibly unique fondness for novels populated largely by unlikeable characters; the controversial artist about whom Julia is attempting to learn is fascinating. Unfortunately, Julia's general lack of initiative and an unsatisfying resolution mar the story.* The mother-daughter conflicts, I mean; not so much the Asian-American immigrant experience.

  • Jeanne Thornton
    2019-03-05 22:02

    Yeah this is great. Basically a Haruki Murakami/David Lynch narrative approach to Sylvia Plath. I was worried about the voice in the book's opening scene -- for a sequence describing a psychic "torquing" competition at a mysterious A-frame house on the periphery of an institute for students of uncommon paranormal ability, basically an X-men scenario if there ever was one, the language was this combo of eerily arch and breezy that I was really not into. And then, as reality starts to shift around and characters with disfigured faces start appearing in dreams in other identities, it becomes pretty clear that this voice is the only acceptable one. I docked a star because I felt like Julavits could have gone further with blurring the line between what's really happening and what's not (a scene early in the book in a hotel bar with whiskey sours is pretty much perfect in this regard and I wish the rest of the book had hewn closer to that level of faith in The Reader) and explain the significance of what's happening slightly less -- the metaphorical significance of the major purchase made on the book's final page felt really oversold to me, for example. But I could pick on the same stuff in like any book. This is a really great book about mothers and daughters, and it's a really great book about why life is generally speaking "worth it." You ought to read this book.

  • Susan Tunis
    2019-03-19 22:12

    A convoluted supernatural plot can’t compete with out of this world proseI’m one of those reviewers who tends to start with a plot summary. So, I could tell you that this is the story of twenty-something Julia Severn, an “Initiate of Promise” at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology. The novel begins by detailing Julia’s complex and troubled relationship with her mentor, Madame Ackerman. Their problems may stem from the mentor’s fear of being supplanted by the protégé, or perhaps they’re due to Ackerman’s resemblance to Julia’s mother who committed suicide when Julia was an infant. For these reasons (and others), things sour, but their separation plagues Julia physically. She leaves school and spends the next year seeking a medical explanation for her physical decline. None is forthcoming until an odd girl literally trips into her life and explains that she’s under “psychic attack.” Offers of both help and employment are proffered.And that—as they say—is just the beginning. The plot of this novel felt like a game of Three Card Monty, with constantly shifting character identities and allegiances. I didn’t read this novel because the description of the plot interested me. Ghosts, psychics, astral projections? Definitely not my cup of tea. However, a book about mother-daughter relationships and other female rivalries? Now you’re talking! And that’s very much what Heidi Julavits delivered. The whole psychic thing was merely the backdrop against which every type of mother-daughter drama imaginable was displayed.And all this talk of “drama” sounds dramatic, and some of it was. But a lot of it was very, very funny. And even more of it was weird. And some of it was just plain confusing. I stand by my Three Card Monty analogy. But through it all was Heidi Julavits’ sparkling language. So much of language is merely functional. And, sure basic communication is a good goal. But the sentences of this novel were full of surprises and unexpected turns. They communicated, but they also delighted in a way that is truly rare. This is the sort of novel that leaves me wondering, “Why haven’t I read this author before?” I know there’s another book somewhere on the shelf. I will be digging it up, because Ms. Julavits has charmed me utterly with her inventive use of language. Plot, in this case, was almost immaterial.

  • CRO
    2019-03-18 01:14

    3 StarsBe warned - lots of horrendous use of metaphor and not to the point anecdote ahead. When I was in 6th grade I got to be apart of an advanced readers group. One of books we read was called A Door in the Wall – it was about a young man living during the medieval era, during the plagues, who contracted some disease (probably polio?) that left him with very limited use of his legs. The book was about his trials and tribulations and how he overcame his adversities and had a triumph of the spirit – etc. etc. One of our assignments was to come up with alternate titles for the book. We had been discussing this book for about a month and we were all bored to tears with it and I remember Allan Carrion (who had a very droll sense of humor for an 11 year old) offering up, in his very dry almost monotone voice – The Problem with Legs. I have to admit, his 11 year old response still tickles my funny bone because of it's over-zealously, sarcastic statement of the obvious. And that's kind of how I felt about this book – grandiose - albeit beautifully written and very imaginative -overstatement of the obvious. And as I was reading this – for some reason - I kept getting the giggles thinking of that reading group and wondering what I would re-title this book - ….And this is what I came up with – The Problems with Mothers and Daughters.But first the good.Sometimes you look at a book cover and you think you know exactly what you are going to get – like drinking a cup of coffee or slugging back a soda – you know exactly which taste buds are going to be stimulated – its probably the reason you've chosen that specific book because you want that specific taste sensation – bitter, sweet, savory. This book was not what I was expecting it to be; it was much better – at least for the first ½ of the book. I think I was expecting something like diet soda, but the “taste” of this book turned out to be something much more subtle and layered– something much more like drinking an expensive wine than drinking a diet soda – and for the most part, this bait and switch was a very pleasant surprise.I was really just expecting this book to be your run of the mill paranormal romance/mystery but it was something much stranger, darker, and more textured. Julia, the narrator, lives in a version of our reality where psychics, ESP, and contacting the dead are all normal, everyday occurrences, and of course, Julia is a very talented psychic. After pissing off her mentor, Madame Ackerman, Julia finds herself under psychic attack. The story of the novel is, of course, Julia's story, and it mostly deals with her search for a cure for this psychic attack, being contracted by an academic film maker to find the whereabouts of another female avante garde, subversive filmmaker, and trying to understand the connection between the film maker she is searching for and her own mother who committed suicide when she was one month old. As a first person narrator , Julia is something of an enigma – hard to know and hard to pin down. She vacillates wildly between super confident cockiness and groveling self pity. She appears to love and worship her mentor, Madame Ackerman in one moment and then becomes condescending and patronizing of her in the next. Julia is a great unreliable first person narrator. In several instances throughout the novel, she appears to be reporting verbatim her conversations with other characters. She is telling the reader the things that are being said to her and how she is reacting and what she is saying back – and the person on the other side of the conversation is having these wild, emotionally overwrought reactions – and you are left to wonder - were they even in the same conversation – what the hell is going on? Is the inconsistency caused by the narrator's emotional damage and inability to emotionally connect with the world or is this the damage of the people and circumstances around her? Is Julia even a psychic or is this whole story her hallucination - the product of her mental instability?And you would think that riding the crazy train with a first person narrator would be annoying – but it was kind of interesting and exciting – like hanging out with that one girlfriend you had in college who was a veritable cornucopia of syndromes, disorders, and plain old emotional hangups. That one friend that when you were with her you felt like the assigned Dutch boy for the duration – keeping your finger in that emotional damn so to speak so that your friend wouldn't – emotionally and socially – drown all the villagers in the low lying areas. Yeah, this friend was a mess – but she had a wicked and biting sense of humor and she was up for any sort of stupid adventure and she made you laugh and made you think so that you could forget all about – for a time – what a fucking emotional, sad sack mess she was. Fun to hang out with for a couple of hours, but you wouldn't really want to live with her. That was what this narrator was like – fun to hang out with for a novel but I wouldn't want to knock around inside her head for an entire series. And the world created in this book was really cool and interesting – just slightly off from our world – a little more whacked out and a little more dreamy. In the world of the novel time and perception can be fluid and everything has a meaning – there are no coincidences – which as the narrator portrays it – is kind of horrifyingly claustrophobic. And I'm getting a little whiplash here because I finished Palimpcest not too long ago and in that novel all of the characters were fleeing from this meaningless reality to the dream like world of Palimpcest where everything was imbued with significance and symbolism. In Palimpcest, it was the point of view of the novel that meaning and significance were the treasures and the dream that you should risk your life to seek. In the Vanishers, the opposite is true – (and this is a pretty interesting perspective for a novel or a character to take - things both created by words and symbolism ) - humans need a break from the unbearable weight of poetic significance – our brains need the breather of occasionally encountering the mundane and the pointless – a drain is just a drain, a chair is just a chair, and cigar is just a cigar.But the things that piqued my interest so much in the first half of the book, were starting to lose their interest for me in the second half. All of that satire about university life, academia, Jungian psychiatry, the lives of artists and intellectuals – got a little snarky, snobbish, and humorless for me. Also, I was sorely disappointed that the main theme of the novel – the love/ hate relationships among women especially mothers and daughters - didn't really untangle itself well enough to suit me. At the end of the novel – after the logic of the plot and the thread of the story just kind of dissolves into a useless puddle – we come to find out that Julia(view spoiler)[ has actually been the one attacking Madame Ackerman. Julia is some sort of psychic vampire that actually takes over Madame Ackerman's place in the universe – leaving Ackerman a quivering mess of emotional goo – convalescing at some undisclosed, European asylum. (hide spoiler)] And I get it, the mother daughter relationship is a difficult knot to unravel – but after all of the sturm and drang of this novel – the animal guides – the meanness, the casual cruelty, and the smug humorlessness and unrelenting over statement of the obvious, I wanted the character to have some sort of revelation. Ah ha – I've gained enough distance and perspective to be able to have fulfilling relationships with other women that aren't based upon mommy issues, jealousy and spite, or an appalling lack of personal boundaries. I wanted Julia to crawl out from all of that crap from her past – not make a cave and settle in. So 4 stars for the strange and interesting ride of the first half – but knocked back to 3 stars in the second half for the lack of emotional evolution of the main character.

  • Holly
    2019-03-03 03:10

    The pretty cover art belies the darkness of this story. It read like a strangely breezy read that held intricate sentences and creepy scenarios and insightful meditations on grief, female rivalry, illness, intergenerational relationships, pornography and . . . Here's a random tossed off observation on a character that I marked as typical of Julavits's style: I marveled at how she was able to project a blanket of certainty over a conversation that was pure jumble, stunning her listeners into shamed muteness. I didn't dare press her to elaborate on what I'd failed to understand, even though a few crucial logic steps were missing from our exchange, steps wherein actually useful information might reside. That kind of observation just gives me pause (as I experience recognition, then extension of the thought to a place I'd perhaps not have thought to take it, then appreciation for how smoothly it was said). Stylistically, Julavits also uses a lot of one sentence paragraphs to punctuate impressions. I've always felt these should be used sparingly - so as not to deplete the power of the punchy sentence - but here there are heavy anchors and undercurrents that weight down the story enough (give it ballast) so it doesn't feel too light or superficial.Multiple levels on which the novel could be read: one amusing way to read the book would be through its coded language and literary references. It's populated with women named Borka and Varga and Irenke, and a single man named Colophon (who resembles Virginia Woolf?!), and Gutenberg, and a kind of Cindy Sherman character who is also known as "the Leni Riefenstahl of France!" And what is with all the chairs?: chairs that grab onto their inhabitants and are practically characters themselves (I had to Google "Barcelona chair") -- pathetic fallacies all over the place in those chairs and hotel rooms and pendants and food - because it's about MAGIC! Love that Julavits had the audacity to make use of this goofy JK Rowling/Lev Grossman/John Crowley(Aegypt)/Thomas Mann mashup: a school for psychics milieu and wooded mountain-retreat spas for neurasthenics and "schizophrenics," and her wiseacre nods to campy tropes of vampires and zombies and witches and wizards.

  • Kerrie
    2019-03-01 03:59

    This is a review from the website I am using it as a reminder for why I want to read this novel. Written by Heidi Julavits. We read one of her books in our book club. For all that we think of our world as somehow post-feminist, the words “women’s fiction” and “high literature” still seen to occupy different real estate, and I don’t need to say which of these rents space 17 floors below the penthouse. Heidi Julavits has spent much of her career as a writer of fiction — this is her fourth novel — using the brute strength of her considerable intellect and ambitious style to winch the nonworking elevator to the top of the building. In most of her work, the world of female concerns becomes, simply, the world.In “The Uses of Enchantment” (2006), Julavits turned a surveyor’s eye on the emotional life of girls at the brink of womanhood, unsure how to get there after the road signs were unscrupulously switched by adults who should have been more considerate guides. Here she coined the style of compression she uses to impressive effect in her new novel, and for many of the same psychologically observant aims (“Part of her allure could be attributed to the fact that people felt self-congratulatory when they discovered it, as though this said something special about them and their unique powers of perception”).With “The Vanishers,” Julavits continues the large project of employing fiction to advance a theory of startling truth: Women’s inner lives are replete with destructive fury. The vaunted givers and nurturers of life pay dearly, psychically, for their gifts. In this novel the baleful forces usually directed inward take literal form, and the cast of characters injuring one another in inventive ways are, in fact, psychics, those who can see (and bleed from) the manifestations of mother-daughter hurt.The first-person narrator is Julia Severn, a student at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology (located in hippie-tweedy New Hampshire, of course) and the stenographer of its most celebrated professor, Madame Ackermann. In a reverse case of anxiety of influence, Ackermann forces Julia, an obviously gifted psychic, to flee the academy. Julia undergoes her mentor’s brutal “psychic attack” — chronic debilitation resembling the mysterious 21st-century psychosomatic illnesses that seem to plague women exclusively — and is thenceforth pulled into an occult thriller’s action. The story takes us in turn to a film conference in New York, a “pricey psychic attack recovery center” that is also a plastic surgery hospital treating Hungarian landed gentry and a class known as “surgical impersonators” (in Vienna, heart of the psychoanalytic heartland), a Paris visited through astral projection, and a spa ominously situated in “Breganz-Belken.” And in the end, it is all because of Mommy. She (a suicide, hence the book’s frequent Plath quotations) is both the giver of life and of all the pain that follows.Although fiction of the futurist or paranormal variety often suffers from a certain effortful specificity — protons, gravity, and time may behave in ways no Einstein could parse, but by gum here’s something clearly meant to be recognized as a Little Debbie snack cake — Julavits avoids the form’s faux flavor by hewing carefully to emotional truth. Instances of which may well be met by the reader with all the unlikely joy of hitting big on a scratch-off ticket:…perhaps it was the crying woman’s mention of the unread library books, because truly there was nothing sadder, except a gift that a person has hand made for you, a scarf or a poncho, that, try as you might, you cannot ever see your way into wearing. This is when the cold indifference of the world envelops you, and makes you feel invigorated by emotion but also acutely alone. These moments of heartbreak for unwanted scarves and unread books can reveal to you, more than the inattention of any long dead mother, what it is to be alive.Julavits has sometimes been called on the carpet for flaunting her smartness, but in these pages she is not showing off; she can’t help it. More to the point, it is of a piece with her enterprise: to create a vaulting novel of ideas. In fluid form, she advances the radical notion of an essential, and unsolvable, sadness that afflicts the state of being female, since if their only worldly currency is the time-stamped value of their bodies, women enact a tragedy every time they bear the daughters who will usurp it. Housing such a subject in the empty shell of a ridiculous pseudoscience shows Julavits a canny deployer of irony.(She can also be as fun to settle down with as the Sunday crossword puzzle: Madame Ackermann’s story is braided with that of Dominique Varga, “the Leni Riefenstahl of France,” who toys avant-gardishly with porn (hmmm, 6 Across: Chantal Akerman?); Julia’s room overlooks Gutenberg Square, a tip of the author’s hat to the history of books; count how many chairs make cameo appearances, from Barcelona to Biedermeier.)It would be annoying if “The Vanishers” were merely up to this sort of literate gamesmanship, or even to highlighting Julavits’ exceptional talent at writing smarty-pants provocateuses, who figure with enough frequency in her work that we might venture a guess at the author’s own conversational style. Rather, the book’s decorative nature — reading it can feel like you’re admiring housewares in the type of high-end shop where every item is the best of its class — plays profitably against its raw gravity. At one point the enrapt anger and bootless desire that are the two laces in the mother-daughter knot find expression thus: “a violent wave of need surged through me. A need to pull her hair, tear her face to pieces with my teeth. A need to kiss her.” A disfigurement, and a kiss. What a pretty collision they make.

  • Anmiryam
    2019-02-27 04:16

    Weird, ferocious, passionate, funny and heart wrenching, all these adjectives and more come to mind while reading "The Vanishers." Heidi Julavits's strange novel manages to be a surrealistic psychic noir mystery, a satire of academia and modern medicine, while simultaneously exploring female relationships -- mother to daughter, teacher to student, friend to friend, enemy to enemy -- with an intensity that humor can only mask for so long. As odd as all this sounds, it is also eminently readable.As the book opens, the narrator, Julia Severn is a student of the psychic sciences at the Institute of Paranormal Psychology, also known as The Workshop. Her mentor, the powerful Madame Ackermann, hired Julia to transcribe her regression travels, but has been unable to produce results. While Madame Ackermann sleeps Julia has, without her employer's knowledge, tried to cover for her by making up transcripts of their sessions. Madame Ackermann tumbles to the trick and in retribution launches a psychic attack on Julia that ruins her health and forces her to leave the workshop. After retreating to New York and a mindless job, Julia is approached by a pair of researchers who are seeking a once famous artist and offer Julia treatment in return for using her psychic powers to their advantage. Julia hopes the quest will lead her closer to her mother who committed suicide when she was a month old. As expected, nothing turns out to be what Julia expects.Who is attacking whom? Who is seeking whom? Where is the border between sanity and insanity? The twists and turns of the plot are complicated by characters who refuse to remain anchored in time and space, life or death and will leave you gasping at the imagination that dreamed up this manic chase. Despite the frenetic forward movement of the story, at its heart, "The Vanishers" is a bildungsroman about dealing with grief and loss, especially when the void is created by suicide or disappearance. If you get to the end and are left with questions, don't worry, that is Julavits' point. Ambiguity is an essential component of the human condition and learning to live means learning to live with seemingly contradictory impulses governing our relationships.It is a book worth reading and, in my opinion, rereading.

  • Patty
    2019-03-01 01:14

    Quick summary...Julia is a psychic who has issues and she is being made sick and unstable by another psychic who is jealous of her.My thoughts...This was an extremely weird yet oddly fascinating book.  Julia was assisting Madame Ackerman when a psychic event caused Madame Ackerman to hate her and make her quite  ill.  Julia already  has issues because of her mothers suicide and it doesn't take much of Madame Ackerman's skills to do her in.  She is asked to leave her training.  She takes  pills round the clock and her life is pretty miserable.Apparently she has to vanish to get better so she does.I am not sure that I totally got hooked by this book...reading it was like reading a bizarre tale...the writing was superb and it was sort of fascinating but a little too heavy into weird psychic stuff for me.But once I started it I really  did  not want to put it down...I wanted to understand this strange bizarre wold Julia lived in.But mostly I just wanted her to get better.  Fast.  There is talk about Sylvia Plath while Julia is in pyschic rehab...Sylvia Plath...the Bell Jar...ugh...Slowly her psychic sight is restored...she sees again...she can find lost things but she is still weird...she is embroiled in this idea that she must find out what happened to her mother...the mother who committed suicide when Julia was one month old.Slowly ...other properties that have been taken from Julia are slowly returned to her.  Her world now includes even more strange events.  There are surgical impersonators...people who  take different faces while they "vanish".  She hangs out with really unusual people...and as she gets stronger the events get more and more odd.They drink liver tea...and get massages and colonics...OMG...the ending is odd and frankly...I am not sure I get it...I really am not going to be able to do this unusual book justice ...I can  say that it is different, strange, unusual and not one that totally hooked me. What it does have is a suspense filled mind blowing series of events and beautiful writing.  The writing is what made me read this book.But that is not saying it wouldn't grab other readers.I have friends who will love this book!!!

  • Holly
    2019-03-06 04:13

    Well. This is one I couldn't wait to end. Dogged plot where seemingly exciting things keep happening, but the characters and the world are so underdeveloped I didn't give a fuck. None of the characters had very much personality at all—Julavits tells us the personality traits of certain characters, but not a single one of them was fleshed out enough to be even remotely believable. Julia, the protagonist, is a blank slate who I kept forgetting even existed—every time someone said "Julia," my literal reaction was "oh yeah, that's her name." Madame Ackermann and Dominique Vargas, the villainesses of the tale, have so little interaction with Julia and development outside of the relay of secondhand information about them that it's really hard to care about her psychological relationship to them. Julavits' prose is fine, humane at times, funny and full of wonderful turns of phrase, yet remains sterile and unevocative. As an Atwood fan, I am obviously in favor of the "show, don't tell" approach to worldbuilding, but The Vanishers could have really used some Stephenson-esque backstory. There were some interesting passages about mothers and daughters, but having failed to make me care about the subjects, they came and went pretty quickly. The prose just never finds a rhythm with the plot.

  • Cynthia
    2019-03-03 05:52

    Suspend your Disbelief"The Vanishers" has a nice twist on the paranormal craze. Julavits manages to present a fresh outlook as well as a believable plot as long as you're willing to suspend belief and go with the premise. Mid twenties Julia Severn is attending a course in honing her psychic skills in lieu of a more traditional graduate course. She becomes fixated on her mentor, Madam Ackerman, in part because she lost own mother as a baby and still longs for her. Then things blow up at school and Julia becomes so ill she must take time away. She meets some shady (or perhaps they are merely pieces of her life puzzle) people who influence her to go to Europe in search of recovering her health but also to uncover a mysterious female director who is thought to be involved with an organization that helps people stage their own disappearances, leaving only a film for their loved ones to view stating their reasons for their suicide or disappearance. I did say you'd need to suspend belief right? I didn't love this book but enjoyed it enough to keep turning the pages. As I've said it balances a tightrope walk through fairly unbelievable plot points but Julavits does a great job with the pacing of the story, in fact the pacing and the freshness of the plot were her strong points.This review was based on a e-galley provided by the publisher.

  • Julie Ehlers
    2019-02-24 04:53

    You know, I like intellectual novels of ideas as much as the next person, but I also really like a book that's a pageturner, that you can't wait to get back to. When I can get both of these things in one book, I feel like I've hit the jackpot. For me, The Vanishers was one of these books. Weird and imaginative, it made great use of character, plot, and setting, and it also asked a lot of interesting questions. Of course, as my GR friend Nicky points out, it didn't really answer any of those questions. But hey, at least it asked. 4/3/15: I need to think about this one for a while.

  • Erin Tuzuner
    2019-03-27 05:55

    Incredible. Raising questions while the answers loiter in the mist, this novel is an incredible exploration of grief, relationships, and self destruction.

  • Andrew
    2019-03-12 04:08

    I was wearing my silver party boots, though I now considered them simply boots. The last party I’d attended I’d been felled by such a gutting attack of vertigo that I’d been forced to spend the night in the stairwell of the hostess’s apartment building, the flights of steps throbbing above me like a stressed vascular system. The last date I’d been on I’d bled from the mouth when kissed. My last visit to a restaurant I’d spent voiding my intestines in the unisex bathroom. Whereas I’d once been able to infiltrate other people’s lives and heads while I remained unknown to them, now the opposite was true. Everyone was an impenetrable stranger to me, while I proved a livid advertisement for myself. My symptoms were an ugly secret I couldn’t help but share. Save to go to my job or the occasional doctor appointment or yoga class taught by the soothing adherents of a Canadian named John, I’d become a hermit. If I could not prevent the nausea, the insomnia-provoking pricks of light on the insides of my eyelids, the canker sores, the explosive bowel, the numb extremities, the swollen joints, the eczema-covered hands, I could at least limit the unattractive way that people came to know me when I was anything but alone.***Julia Severn is a student at New Hampshire’s prestigious Institute of Integrated Parapsychology—colloquially known as the Workshop. The Workshop is a school for psychics, and Julia was, upon entry, considered one of their more talented recruits. Early in her academic career, Julia is assigned the role of stenographer to her mentor—the much-despised Madame Ackerman, who sees in Julia’s talent a threat to her own standing within the school and the larger psychic community. While documenting Madame Ackerman’s regressions, through which she is able to psychically transpose herself into different times and places, Julia’s gifts are revealed to the jealous matriarch. Fearful of her protégé’s power, Madame Ackerman inflicts upon Julia a vicious, debilitating psychic attack, which leaves the student a washed-up, self-medicating mess living a pointless New York existence working as an exhibition model for a flooring company. In the months following the attack and her dropping out of the Workshop, Julia is propositioned by a mysteriously aggravating young woman named Alwyn and an academic named Colophon to help track down a missing avant-garde artist, Dominique Varga, who may or may not have known Julia’s mother—who killed herself when Julia was only a month old—for a brief period of time. Along the way, Julia encounters vanishing films—a sort of recorded suicide note, videotaped farewells for those wishing to remove themselves from reality—psychic rehab centres, and unexpected academic success at the hands (and mind) of her toxic self.There are a great many more details and detours along the way, few of which hold any sense of urgency or self-reflection. The Vanishers succeeds entirely on the strength of Julavits’s sly, sardonic tone—which also, ironically enough, plays a significant part in its undoing. Make no mistake: the language is fork-tongued and often amusing (far too few authors make use of the always-delicious “mendacious”), but what begins as an exciting, altered perspective on the paranormal-made-real becomes, during the book’s third of six parts, decidedly mundane and seemingly disinterested in its own characters.“The past is not the past if it always present. Memory is an act of murder.”The Vanishers is in many ways about the many faces of memory—how it is at once illuminating, deceptive, destructive, and manipulative. Psychics, in Julavits world, are (forgive me) the mediums for this exploration. Their abilities are sorely underused as a means for merely dissecting the tricks of memory and how it is so frequently distorted by the frustrations of family. It is also about mothers and daughters, specifically—mothers pushing away their daughters, daughters becoming their mothers; mothers killing themselves, daughters killing their memories of. It was honestly difficult for me to pull more from this title than what I’ve written above because, interestingly enough for a book about emotional and psychic penetration, I found it to be rather emotionally distant—so much so that I felt distracted by its chilly exterior. No single character felt accessible on any level. The book’s writing, while obviously lovingly crafted, trades depth, momentum, and vulnerability for humour and a plot overburdened, in the end, by detail and quick transitions of location and circumstance.The Vanishers is a portrait of an intriguing idea painted with simple, clean strokes, when what I really wanted, what I felt this novel sorely needed, was a little mess and imprecision—an emotional core revealed, unhidden behind such delicate craftwork.

  • christa
    2019-03-21 04:17

    The highly gifted, pretty precocious student Julia Severn is studying at the Institute of Integrated Parapsychology and lands the coveted gig of recording professor Madame Ackermann’s dream-like psychic episodes in Heidi Julavit’s novel “The Vanishers.” Sounds great, except Madame Ackermann is blocked. Nothing is happening when she is in this state. She is especially not finding out the file number of a film canister she’s been asked to locate. So Julia doodles away the day, finds some answers without even trying and pretends Madame Ackermann conjured them herself. Also great -- until Madame Ackermann catches on to her little tricks during a routine dinner party game and then all hell breaks loose. Julia is struck with bloating and skin conditions and all-around discomfort, seemingly the victim of Madame Ackermann’s psychic attack. Julia returns to pedestrians-ville and takes a job as a person who sits in a room pretending to talk on the phone and is hopped up on all sorts of prescriptions that dull her extra sensory perceptions. Then she comes into contact with a handful of people whose interests interlock with her own -- including finding her mother, who killed herself when Julia was a month old. Along the way Julia learns of people who vanish -- as opposed to killing themselves -- and go on to lead lives away from anyone and anything they know. Many leave behind a last video as a sort of farewell (or, potentially a pornographic eff you). They often spend a bit of time at a spa-like place shared by those recovering from plastic surgery. There is also a hunt for Dominique Vargas, a great filmmaker who disappeared in the mid-1980s, who seems to have ties to Julia’s mother. This book has that wonderful trait of being something that makes a person sound dizzy and confused when the plot is explained aloud. It’s fun to be reading, but doesn’t stick to the ribs. Every time I set it down I had to backtrack at least six pages when I started again to remember this mess of people and their ticks and motives. Ultimately, this book will be remembered as having a lot of scenes spent in country rehabilitation centers and that at one point things seemed awfully Scooby Doo-ish in a moment of reveal. The writing is fresh and quirky and descriptive, though sometimes Julavits fishtails into too cute. “Madame Ackermann telescoped her cigarette in an ashtray and stood over me.” That sort of thing.

  • Ricki Treleaven
    2019-03-11 04:16

    This week I read The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits . I almost wish I hadn't. {almost} This book has received rave reviews and was recommended to me by several sources. If you decide to read it, please be forewarned that the synopses I read beforehand are misleading. This deception is almost understandable because the plot is very convoluted and unnecessarily complicated.Basically, the story is about a twenty-something Julia Severn, a student at an exclusive New England institute for psychics. Julia is one of the most talented in her class, and she is soon chosen to be Madame Ackermann's intern. Ackermann becomes jealous of Julia because Julia completes a complicated regression to solve a mystery for one of Ackermann's clients. Julia is violently attacked psychically, and the assumed attacker is Ackermann.But what this book is really about is rivalry between women, and believe me it is exhausting to read. There is conflict between basically all of the female characters. With women treating each other so poorly, who needs men to challenge or oppress? Women can destroy each other all on their own without help from men. Oh, joy! Unfortunately, Julia is a very unlikable character, and I really do not care what happens to her because she behaves so badly. Karma is a....female, too, Julia! There is no rest for the wicked in this story, and if you are dead, that is no excuse NOT to cause mayhem. Ghosts as well as psychic vampires mean to harm Julia, too.There is too much psychobabble in the book. I appreciate T.S. Eliot as well as other modernists, but a novel full of numbed, Prufrock-like zombies is too much for me. I do not want to write a spoiler about what the title means, but I will tell you that it reflects a selfishness that makes me sad. I am tired of entitled, whiny victims who never take responsibility for their own misery. The prose in The Vanishers is quirky and filled with surprises. I only wish that Julavits could channel her genius in a much kinder, gentler direction. Maybe next time she can at least write a book with one likable female character who is not a destructive force against other women. A simpler plot would be nice, too.

  • Ciara
    2019-03-12 23:54

    i really enjoyed this novel, but it is insane. it's hard to even explain what it's about. i guess the protagonist enrolls in an institute where people harness their psychic energy. she quickly becomes a teacher's pet & is enlisted to assist her crazy gypsy lady mentor in the job of psychically identifying the safe in which a movie reel is being stashed. the movie will allegedly prove or disprove allegations about some avant garde performance artist who lured wealthy young socialites into her orbit & then manipulated them into starring in snuff films or something. the problem is that the mentor is having a psychic block, & the protagonist's powers are stronger than even she realizes. the mentor has a clue though, & throws some kind of psychic energy at the protag that makes her have some kind of breakdown & drop out of the institute & get a job at a carpet store.that's where she is when a glamorous young woman comes in & hires her something. i don't even remember. the plot gets so convoluted at this point that i don't remember what the fuck the pretense for everything that follows even is. but soon the protag is jetsetting all over europe, supposedly doing this job, but also trying to avoid the psychic attacks of her mentor & grappling with her unresolved emotions concerning her mother's suicide. everything comes together in a way that is maybe a touch predictable--as predictable as you can really get when you are reading such a patently insane story. this kind of reminded me of the leftovers by tom perrotta. both books have a similar atmosphere. the vanishers sets a smaller scene, i guess, so there is less disbelief to suspend, & less responsibility for world-building, which i think is where perrotta disappointed me. i also always prefer books with female protagonists, & julavits was smart to focus on just one character when she could have done a third-person omniscient & gotten into the heads of all the different wacky characters that populate this book. focusing on one character kept things more suspenseful & mitigated the confusion to a degree.this book is DEFINITELY not for everyone, but maybe if you really like aimee bender?

  • Andrea Mullarkey
    2019-02-28 22:51

    In this book, Julavits made a magical prep school entirely fascinating to me. The Vanishers is told from the perspective of Julia Severn, a sick young woman who in retelling what has happened to her is also trying to understand exactly what it was and why as well. It is clear to her that she has been psychically attacked, and she presumes that her supervisor, Madame Ackerman attacked her in jealousy for Julia’s strong magical talents. That Julia has shown Madame Ackerman up at a party with all the faculty in attendance, Ackerman’s usual seat of influence, must be the genesis of the problem. But as is quickly revealed Julia’s life is far more complicated than the troubles she has with Madame Ackerman. She is a motherless girl, with a problematic father. In the time between when she is attacked and the point at which she is telling the story, Julia dives deep into her own gifts, visions, and apparent time-traveling to explore who her mother was and how she is related to the people causing difficulty for Julia. And Julia is driven on by characters who prefer to remain mysterious, though claim to have her best interests at heart. The story is fundamentally about the challenges of female relationships, and it is a wonderful thing to note such rich, well-crafted female conflicts and mistrusts that do not revolve around a romantic triangle or love interest. Add in plot lines about an infamous and elusive maker of snuff films, and a company that helps to “vanish” people, and you get mysteries that stack higher and higher until they finally collapse into one another. Filled with fully realized places and rich descriptions that aren’t overdone, I was enthralled by this book. And Sands’s narration is both realistic and enchanting. One of my difficulties with fantasy is that I can have a hard time relating books in the genre to my world, but the way Sands conjured the world Julavitz created presented no difficulty for me at all.

  • angie
    2019-03-20 22:15

    "I imagined the dread and hopelessness suffered by the person who'd vanished so many times there was no place else to go. She was known to everyone."--from The VanishersI finished The Vanishers last night and it is still all I can think about today. A wild, weird, amazing read with a main character so messed up by life you might find her annoying in less skilled hands than Heidi Julavits', this novel will haunt you long after you have finished the last page. Don't let the psychic background turn you off if you prefer your novels spiked with lots of reality. The universal themes that run throughout The Vanishers definitely keep the supernatural threads from undermining any credibility on the writer's part or ability to suspend disbelief on the reader's end. Instead you (if you have any heart at all) will find yourself feeling for Julia Severn as she battles a psychic onslaught from her mentor and deals with her lifelong sense of missing a mother she never knew and for whom she has no idea how to grieve.Part mystery, part David Lynchian head trip, all heart, The Vanishers examines how women can wreak havoc on each other emotionally and physically.I found myself so fascinated (magnetized, really) by this book that I continually jotted down my favorite quotes. Heidi Julavits is a marvelous writer who makes you think...and hate to see the book end.

  • Chelsea
    2019-03-08 23:51

    It sounds cliche to say that a book hooks you with it's first sentence, but in this case it couldn't be more true. I actually whispered the word "wow" when I finished the intro.Though this is a beautiful, engaging book, it is also quite complicated. I totally loved the idea of the psychic attacks that Julie is subjected to and doles out. The language and writing is superior to so many other books I have read lately. Julie's voice was so pitch-perfect. I found myself looking up to her perfectly witty and punchy responses. Madame Ackerman was spellbinding, and I wanted to see more of her. I wanted to know her back story! Spin-off book, perhaps?Still, there were a few places where I struggled. There are no chapters in the book, just four section breaks. This made the book feel both too open and far to closed, all at the same time. There were clear markers where chapters could have been broken down. The four sections were different enough, but I often find it difficult to read books without chapters. If I step away for any longer period of time, it is very difficult to get back into the flow of things. If you pick this book up, be sure to give it your undivided attention, and you will be rewarded with a story that will stick in your brain for many months to come.

  • Joe
    2019-03-06 03:03

    In a marvelous literary construction, Heidi Julavits takes the internal struggle of a young woman whose mother has committed suicide and finds a metaphysical analogy to extrapolate, examine, and ultimately explode the resulting inner demon. Elizabeth Severn is a young psychic who enrolls in the country's only college for the paranormally inclined. However, her course of study quickly takes a wrong turn when her tutor, out of jealousy, attacks her mind. Soon, in an attempt to heal herself Elizabeth is pulled into the same tangled web that ultimately killed her mother, following a mysterious performance artist in a doomed chase that resembles Eco in its eccentricity and Bolano in its fantastic obscurity. When fate twists the characters so tightly together that they are impossible to tell apart, Elizabeth realizes that she has become the attacker, and that forgiving her mother may mean being defeated at her hands. Chilling, weird, and fascinating. "Once I asked my father why my mother hadn't left a suicide note, to which he'd replied, We are not that sort of people. To his mind, this oversight of hers was less a mark of insensitivity than of the tensile strength of her character."

  • Lynn
    2019-03-23 04:09

    The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits is a literary version of a paranormal novel. Julia Severn is a student at a school for psychics. She has been taken under the tutelage of Madame Ackerman who reminds Julia of her mother. Well, pictures of her mother. Julia's mother died when Julia was a baby. Julia's longing to know her mother underpins the whole story. Her relationship with Madame Ackerman begins to crumble when Madame realizes that her pupil is more talented than her. After a psychic attack, Julia isolates herself in Manhattan as she deals with the aftermath. One day at work, she meets Alwyn who seems to already know Julia. Alwyn introduces Julia to her mentor who is trying to track down Dominique Varga, an edgy artist whose films captured the attention of the art world in the 80's. He believes Julia's psychic ability can lead him to Varga. Julavits has written a novel filled with intelligent prose. I really enjoyed the first half of the book (see above) and then it became too surreal for my taste. Beautiful writing, but the storyline seemed lost as the book progressed. It was like a blurry photo where I couldn't quite make out the details.

  • Abeille
    2019-03-22 23:13

    This book just didn't do it for me. I didn't hate it, though I did think the plot was rather silly. I didn't care about any of the characters, which is one of my litmus tests for good books. Frankly, I have no idea why The Vanishers was chosen as one of Amazon's "best" books of the month. The cynic in me suspects bribery. I do try to find something positive in every book I read, so I'll grant that the writing in The Vanishers is well crafted and that the author makes some delightfully sly observations about the academic subculture the main character is part of. I read a review earlier today that said (paraphrased), "words don't make great books; stories do." That pretty much sums up my disdain for The Vanishers. #31 in the Book a Week Challenge from the #WTM boards.

  • Kristin
    2019-03-03 22:55

    My 6 y.o. Daughter picked this audiobook from the library shelves and suggested I listen to it because she liked the flowers on the cover. There are no flowers in this book. I dare say, I have never read a book whose content is so completely opposite the cover. It is a captivating, often horrifying story delving into the darkest places of our souls and psyches - exploring the very meaning of a wounded spirit. I don't think I can say I enjoyed this book. I can't even really explain the plot. But I'm glad my daughter chose it for me just because she liked the cover.

  • Craig
    2019-03-15 01:50

    I tried so diligently to read THE VANISHERS as slowly as possible, but it is an impossibility. It's just too good. This book feels plucked from my subconscious, as if Julavits was one of the very psychic initiates she explores here. Everything I love is on display: real characters, emotional depth, building fear/ dread, and the supernatural. I especially appreciate the excavation of the mother/ daughter psychology, as well as that of female friendships (or lack thereof). Easily my favorite book of the year!