The Vanishers, Heidi Julavits


Although the narrative gets a little muddled at the end—perhaps the writer's remit was overly ambitious?I couldn't put The Vanishers down.

It's a story of a psychic community, of mothers and daughters, of sickness and health and death and life, of memory and those consciously trying to expunge it. But it's also so much more, an expert study in miniature, an exploration of the beauty of little moments that inform that bigger, almost unwieldy, world.

Our narrator Julia, studying at an institute for psychics, has a gift for regression that earns her the wrath of her mentor when she shows her up; others, though, think Julia might be useful in their own search for an avant garde filmmaker. But the narrator, really, is seeking only one woman: her mother, who committed suicide when the girl was only a month old. 

Julia's father, though destroyed, seems resigned to the loss, to the questions left in the wake of his wife's act: 

Once I’d asked my father why my mother hadn’t left a suicide note, to which he’d replied, We are not that sort of people. To his mind, this oversight of hers was less a mark of insensitivity than of the tensile strength of her character.
“Most meaningful sentiments are cheapened by articulation," my father said.

Julavits's command of language is on display here, and even in the most fleeting set pieces, the shortest asides, a well-chosen word serves to illuminate, allowing the reader to see the familiar through a new lens. The text itself contradicts his assertion; even the most mundane sentiments can be elevated to the sublime by a discerning observer.