So imagine that I'm browsing in a bookstore, or maybe the book section at Target. I notice you checking out The Uses of Enchantment. I watch for a minute while you read the back, sense your hesitation, and then see you say to yourself, "Eh, seems interesting. I'll take it."
Now you see a slightly manic blonde hauling ass towards you making frantic waving motions. When did they start letting homeless women with well-maintained highlights hang out in Barnes and Noble? you think. At that moment I arrive in front of you, my ponytail slightly disheveled, panting a bit from my trek across the store. (I should really cut down on the cigs.) "Put it back!" I cry. You wonder why I'm so vehement. What could be so wrong with a book whose blurb promises a tale of Mary Veal, who disappeared from her posh New England prep school one day after field hockey practice and reappears a few weeks later with no visible injury or trauma save a case of amnesia. Was it true, or did she fake the whole thing? What repercussions will the event have on Mary's family, therapists, and Mary herself? Why wouldn't you want to check this out?
I'll tell you why. It's a hot fucking mess. Julavits is aiming for literary and instead turns out a disjointed, confusing, and subpar book that tries to blend three different "narratives" - "What Might Have Happened," a convoluted account of Mary's experience with a kidnapper/fellow fugitive/pervy old dude who supposedly suffers from amnesia himself; "Notes" from her first therapist, who goes on to write a book detailing what he considers Mary's entire fabrication and which ends up destroying his career when he's accused of improper patient conduct with Mary by a feminazi colleague; and "West Salem," the events that follow the funeral of Mary's mother fourteen years to the day from Mary's disappearance (Mary's mother, incidentally, refused to see her before she died, and spent most of her life obsessed with an ancestor accused of being a witch). Is that confusing enough you? Congratulations, now you know how I felt when I read the book. Beyond the fact that Julavits has three concepts that never come together, there is no real resolution. You never find out why Mary took off with the guy (if that's what actually happened). You never understand why Mary let the feminazi take over and trash her therapist. You certainly never get any sort of revelations or conclusions from grownup Mary. It's never even made clear who the dude in the car was. It ends abruptly; it doesn't even whimper to an end. The whole thing is like watching a fly buzz between a window and a screen until it drops dead, but somehow less entertaining.
Put the book down. Walk away. I promise not to stalk you through the store.