The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits

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The Vanishers
304 pages; Doubleday
"This is not just a story about how you can become sick by knowing people. This is a story about how other people can become sick by knowing you," says Julie Severn, the young narrator of Heidi Julavits's new novel—one in which paranormal powers are taken as (somewhat) normal. The action starts at birthday party for Julia Severn's colllege teacher, a powerful, successful psychic named Madame Ackermann who attacks Julie with a wolf-like ball of energy that leaves her with crippling headaches, insomnia and a variety of other ills that cause her to drop out of school. But when she seeks refuge in a gorgeously imagined nursing home for victims of paranormal attacks and women recovering from plastic surgery (a brilliant parallel by Julavits—both types of patients have holes in their souls), Juile begins to wonder just who is attacking whom. A parade of mysterious characters enter and exit, including an aging paparazzi photographer, a disfigured cosmetic heiress and a ruthless, possibly deranged video artist. The many characters can, at times, bog down the story. All is saved, however by the magnetic power of the author's voice (Can words have charisma? Hers do). It keeps you spellbound, moving across the globe and time, at last weaving the final strands of the plot into an unexpected, insightful finale—one that owes much to regular old life in the present tense. This a fantasical world, yes, but one that's so relevant and moving because it has a point for us all. Psychics in The Vanishers don't predict the future; they regress into the past and often misunderstand what they see. Why? Because that's where the damage lies, and also the answers, providing that the psychic in question uses one other power—self-awareness.
— Leigh Newman