Your blood might be safe, but guard your psychic energy against these vampires
If you're at all interested in vampire history, I highly recommend the History Channel special Vampire Secrets. Besides being very informative, the "historical" reenactments are hilarious, especially the ones about Countess Elizabeth Bathory. The part of the program that really stands out to me, though, is a section about psychic vampires. As the History Channel tells us, there are people out there who believe that they feed on the psychic energy of other humans, and yes, some of these special predators are even interviewed on the show. I've always been fascinated (and a bit amused) by the idea (I read L.J. Smith's Dark Visions trilogy several times in junior high, which I would also recommend to anyone who likes a little teen romance with their psy vamps) but I certainly never expected to encounter it in a work of "serious" fiction, so I was delighted to find that Heidi Julavits's new novel The Vanishers is about people with psychic powers who use them in interpersonal "battles".
Now, it takes a special sort of writer to make a book about psychic warfare seem plausible, but Julavits does just that. In the novel, Julia Severn, a student at the prestigious Institute of Integrated Parapsychology, is thrilled to be chosen by the highly respected Madame Ackermann to serve as her stenographer. When Julia enters into Ackermann's world and discovers that her psychic abilities are beginning to dry up and she may not be able to provide the services she has promised to a colleague, Julia inadvertently begins to assist her mentor by overriding her abilities with her own. When Madame Ackermann discovers that Julia's psychically more talented than she lets on, the relationship between the two women becomes quite tense, and Julia begins to suffer from vague physical ailments that no doctor can treat. Her symptoms worsen until she can no longer continue her studies, so she retreats, leaving the academy for a mindless job in Manhattan, where she hopes to escape the psychic trauma that haunts her and finally feel like herself again. However, her talent has attracted the attention of a mysterious benefactor, who hopes that with some treatment she'll be able to recover enough to use her gifts to help find a missing person. Here is where the story really gets complicated: Julia ends up in Vienna in a treatment facility for victims of psychic attacks, where she finds herself enmeshed in a mystery involving a French feminist filmmaker, a group of intentionally "Vanished" people, plastic surgery patients receiving new faces, and possibly her late mother.
There's really no hope of summarizing this novel in a way that makes much sense, but the beauty of Julavits's writing makes the effort it takes to follow the plot completely worth it. In turns poignant and darkly funny, every paragraph is perfectly constructed, each page worthy of lingering over. It's an altogether beautiful book, and even if the hazy, out-there psychic stuff sounds off-putting, you might want to give it a chance, because beyond it is a nuanced, touching portrait of women's relationships with each other and with art.