WE RECOMMEND: The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
A story about teenage abduction at a New England prep school doesn’t exactly sound like a hilarious read, but Heidi Julavits’s The Uses of Enchantment mixes dark comedy with mystery and suspense. While a sixteen year old student at Semmering Academy, Mary Veal disappeared for almost two months and returned claiming amnesia. Exactly fourteen years later Mary comes home for her mother’s funeral and begins to investigate her own disappearance.
OK, so it may not sound funny, but it is. Mary’s drunken aunt projects her own feelings onto her poodle Weegee, who wears a sweater that reads “ÇA VA?” Older sister Regina attacks Mary for throwing out a half-empty box of their mom’s tampons, claiming that maybe their mother wanted them to have the feminine hygiene products as something to remember her by. Semmering Academy has a mural, nicknamed The Grin-And-Bear-It, of “soon-to-be-scalped-or-burned-women” who appear to be enjoying themselves.
Underneath the satirically tragic story in The Uses of Enchantment runs a leitmotif concerning women stripped of the power to tell their own stories. This isn’t always an easy read – the book jumps back and forth between three time periods and multiple narrators – but Mary’s story ultimately pays off with its humor and constant twists. I bet you won’t guess the ending. Recommended for all lovers of contemporary fiction,
especially those with a macabre sense of humor.
-Elizabeth Kelly, Interim Public Services Librarian