The Vanishers

The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits 

The Vanishers is a bit of a mindfuck. Julia, the protagonist, is a student of parapsychology, which is basically about the practice of ESP, and making contact with the dead. She’s got mother issues because hers committed suicide when she was a baby, and her mentor seems like a replacement mother figure, until she rejects her protegee in an Evil Queen/Snow White – type move. Julia then becomes mysteriously ill and considers herself a victim of “psychic attack.” There is an academic who wants to use Julia’s talents to find out about an avant garde filmmaker, and there are “surgical impersonators,” people who have plastic surgery so that they look like people who have died, and then try to insinuate themselves into those people’s lives. All of these elements mix together into a tense, suspenseful mystery that makes readers question the nature of perception and how we can ever be sure that we know what we think we know.

Honestly, listening to this novel in my car I probably missed some of the intricacies of the detailed plot. It felt circular, and it was very much about mothers and daughters and the many ways relationships between women can be poisoned. One of my favorite lines was a mother talking to Julia about her daughter, saying that  a mother watches her daughter become her younger self, but the worst parts of her, the parts she hates most about herself. That moment was a pretty bleak picture of motherhood, but it was also the kind of line you remember a long time.


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