The funny thing about the truth is that it always has more than one side, especially when one side makes a better story. In these instances, the truth can perform a series of permutations, creating multiple versions of itself, each equally accurate and equally flawed. In Believer editor Heidi Julavits' third novel, The Uses of Enchantment, Mary Veal is about to uncover these complexities and find that the truth is capable of taking on a life of its own. The only thing undisputed about 16-year-old Mary's disappearance after a high school field hockey game is that she did, in fact, disappear. The how, who, where and why, however, prove a bit trickier to unravel. Following her safe return, Mary claims that she does not recall the details of her month-long ordeal. Frustrated and somewhat fearful, her domineering mother turns her over to the care of psychologist Dr. Hammer. The ensuing therapy sessions are comprised of an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse between a recalcitrant teenager and an ambitious doctor anxious to make amends for his previous professional sins. As a result, the story of what actually happened to Mary Veal that November afternoon is ultimately cast aside.
What follows is a study of how much of our story we can lay claim to and how much, in sharing it, belongs to those who are listening. Through alternating chapters highlighting the perspectives of Dr. Hammer and Mary as both her present-day and 16-year-old self, the reader is introduced to a world where nothing is quite as it seems. Fifteen years after her disappearance, Mary finally sets about unraveling a story that she herself has begun to both doubt and forget. In The Uses of Enchantment, Julavits explores the boundaries of fantasy and reality and challenges the reader to identify what is real. Through her well-crafted story and intoxicating characters, she proves that doing so is never as easy as it appears. Meredith McGuire writes from San Francisco.