Review of The Uses of Enchantment by Heidi Julavits
The Uses of Enchantment
by Heidi Julavits
This book began with a great deal of promise, but as I got to knew the characters, I liked it less and less.
Heidi Julavits demonstrates how one can avoid using quotation marks to indicate dialogue without confusing the reader, a lesson Ali Smith could stand to learn. The Uses of Enchantment is far superior to The Accidental in use of language and style to create a particular atmosphere and introduce the character. I enjoy how Julavits varies the chapters among "what might have happened," the notes of Mary's therapist, flashbacks, and present day events. Unlike The Delta, the periods in time are clearly separated, not confusing, and not annoying. Indeed, this book seems to employ two narrative devices used in other books I recently read and didn't much like, yet it does it so much better than those books.
Style aside, however, I didn't like this book as much as I thought I would. I empathize with Mary, who was either abducted and never properly counselled about it or engineered a fake abduction and never adjusted properly to society. But she spends most of the books complaining about how manipulative and narcissistic her mother was, and how she never got a chance to reconcile with her mother prior to her mother's death from cancer. Although the story spends a lot of time discussing therapy and Mary's experience with it, Mary never seems to have to exert much effort in her life or deal with any consequences (beyond her obvious estrangement from her family). She crashes a car, revisits the ghosts from her past, but at the end of the book, has she really changed from who she was at the beginning? No. And that was a disappointment.