Thursday, September 6, 2012

Psychic killers, qu'est-ce que c'est

A book I'm reading now that I can comfortably recommend is The Vanishers by Heidi Julavits.  Of course I'm only a third of the way in, give or take, so it could become a crushing disappointment by the time the ending rolls around.  But I'm not expecting that, so barring updates...

It's about a promising young psychic named Julia Severn.  "Promising" in that she started shorting out microwaves and streetlights at a young age, and could also read the lives of strangers.  She's one of the initiates at a New Hampshire Academy nicknamed the workshop.  While here she starts to work for an esteemed psychic named Madame Ackermann, who contracts her gifts out to wealthy clients.  Unfortunately for Julia she completes one of these assignments herself while Madame Ackermann is under.  It's unfortunate for her because Ackermann is on the same vanity and vengeance level as Snow White's stepmother.  Her psychic attacks cause real physical ailments, and Julia lives an invalid's life when she moves to New York City.

Much of the novel takes place among a rarefied crowd.  I refer not to telepaths, but to a class of intellectuals residing between the upper middle class and the actual 1%.  That I think is a big part of the point.  Pecking order is very important here, and those who violate it are subject to cruel punishment.

Light reading, perhaps, but with sharp flavors.


susan said...

I liked your comparison of Madame Ackerman to Snow White's wicked stepmother. It sounds like a pretty interesting story so far and I hope you like the rest - or at least offer that update about what in the end changed your mind.

A strange one we both read recently is a 1972 Russian novel called 'Roadside Picnic' by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The title refers to a mysterious area called the Zone that includes part of a city, where aliens had briefly landed. Not only had they left a lot of very strange artifacts but they'd also changed the area in such a way that there were shifting, invisible dangers. The book is about one guy who specializes in finding alien products to sell on the black market. It's been out of print in the US for more than 30 years but the new edition from the Chicago Review Press is a good one.

Ben said...

So far so good. At the very least I have a pretty high opinion of the author.

Roadside Picnic sounds quite interesting. I know that Russia has a strong sci-fi/fantasy tradition, going from at least the 19th century to the present. So far I haven't read much of it at all, but I may in the future.