The Uses of Enchantment

The Uses of Enchantment

Mary Veal, the aggressively wan protagonist of Heidi Julavits’ Uses of Enchantment, is another overlooked daughter, the least remarkable of the three Veal sisters. At least until she was 16, when she vanished for eight weeks. Was she abducted and raped, or did she, as her mother preferred to believe, stage the episode? Or is the truth something more complicated and subversive?

Mary goes home to New England for her long-estranged mother’s funeral. Here, she confronts ”old stuff,” including her frosty sisters and lingering questions about her disappearance. Tartly observed scenes of family discord are interspersed with the smarmy notes of Mary’s ex-therapist (Freud-like, he offers his own suspect reading of Mary’s experience) and a dreamy abduction narrative titled ”What Might Have Happened.” Whether you find that delightfully postmodern or maddeningly coy may indicate your response to this crisply written but overcomplicated novel, a cat’s cradle with so many overlapping fibs, stories-within-stories, allusions, and red herrings that even multiple readings won’t release all the knots.

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