If Heidi Julavits made an outline of her new novel The Vanishers before she embarked on writing it, the convoluted diagram of arrows leading from present to past, from this world to the paranormal, from mother to daughter, and from film to life, should have stopped her in her tracks. Thankfully Julavits is no ordinary writer, and the meta-heavy brilliance of her fourth novel is something akin to a Sylvia Plath poem transferred telepathically to a psychic who happens to be solving a missing-person’s case while being film-followed by artist Sophie Calle. Julavits’s fiction has always been immersed in clinical psychology and female bonds. Here, both play out to mind-oragami-ing effect as a young parapsychology student falls down an astral rabbit hole as she searches for clues about her suicide-victim mother and a missing renegade feminist filmmaker, all the while being tormented by a rival psychic. Several times I thought Julavits wasn’t going to be able to pull off this experimental high-wire juggling act. She does.
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