Basically, the story is about a twenty-something Julia Severn, a student at an exclusive New England institute for psychics. Julia is one of the most talented in her class, and she is soon chosen to be Madame Ackermann's intern. Ackermann becomes jealous of Julia because Julia completes a complicated regression to solve a mystery for one of Ackermann's clients. Julia is violently attacked psychically, and the assumed attacker is Ackermann.
But what this book is really about is rivalry between women, and believe me it is exhausting to read. There is conflict between basically all of the female characters. With women treating each other so poorly, who needs men to challenge or oppress? Women can destroy each other all on their own without help from men. Oh, joy! Unfortunately, Julia is a very unlikable character, and I really do not care what happens to her because she behaves so badly. Karma is a....female, too, Julia! There is no rest for the wicked in this story, and if you are dead, that is no excuse NOT to cause mayhem. Ghosts as well as psychic vampires mean to harm Julia, too.
There is too much psychobabble in the book. I appreciate T.S. Eliot as well as other modernists, but a novel full of numbed, Prufrock-like zombies is too much for me. I do not want to write a spoiler about what the title means, but I will tell you that it reflects a selfishness that makes me sad. I am tired of entitled, whiny victims who never take responsibility for their own misery.
The prose in The Vanishers is quirky and filled with surprises. I only wish that Julavits could channel her genius in a much kinder, gentler direction. Maybe next time she can at least write a book with one likable female character who is not a destructive force against other women. A simpler plot would be nice, too.
Until next time..