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Cover for The Art of Vanishing

The Art of Vanishing

A Memoir of Wanderlust

Laura Smith


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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (2/5/2018)


A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure in a memoir that "pushes literary boundaries" (The Atlantic)

At twenty-five, as her wedding date approached, Laura Smith began to feel trapped. Not by her fiancé, who shared her appetite for adventure, but by the unsettling idea that it was hard to be at once married and free.

Laura wanted her life to be different. She wanted her marriage to be different. And she found in the strangely captivating story of another restless young woman determined to live without constraints both an enticement and a challenge. Barbara Newhall Follett was a free-spirited trailblazer who published her first novel at 11, enlisted as a deck hand on a boat bound for the south China seas at 15 and was one of the first women to hike the Appalachian trail. Then in December 1939, when she was not much older than Laura, she walked out of her apartment on a quiet tree-lined street in Brookline, leaving behind a fraying marriage, and vanished without a trace. Obsessed by her story, Laura set off to find out what had happened.

The Art of Vanishing is a riveting mystery and a piercing exploration of marriage and convention that asks deep and uncomfortable questions: Why do we give up on our childhood dreams? Is marriage a golden noose? Must we find ourselves in the same row houses with Pottery Barn lamps telling our kids to behave? Searingly honest and written with a raw intensity, it will challenge you to rethink your most intimate decisions and may just upend your life.

Praise For The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust

"Skillful and sensitive." – The New York Times Book Review 

“Told with real insight and remarkable honesty . . . [The Art of Vanishing] interweaves biographical portraiture that is urgently personal and memoir that is deepened by historical exploration. Smith pushes literary boundaries.” –The Atlantic

“On the brink of her impending nuptials, Laura Smith finds herself enthralled by the disappearance of Barbara Newhall Follett, a trailblazing author and adventurer who left behind an unhappy marriage and vanished without a trace in 1939. Grappling with what the future will hold for her, the nature of marriage, and a yearning for some ephemeral idea of freedom, this cleverly-written memoir follows Smith as her restless musings twine with Follett's trail, two kindred spirits finding one another across the span of time.” – Harper’s Bazaar

"A captivating read for everyone who has ever wondered what would happen if you could simply start over." --HelloGiggles

‟The Art of Vanishing
 is captivating and ingenious—a biography, a memoir of a marriage, and an exploration of a few timelessly vexing questions: Is it possible to forge a life that combines adventure and stability? What role does fantasy play in our day-to-day? Where is the balance between autonomy and intimacy? Laura Smith is a beautiful writer, a sharp critic, and a great storyteller. Once I started reading this book I could not put it down.ˮ
—Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own

"A haunting and elegant meditation on restlessness, a fascinating literary mystery, and a bold exploration of marriage and wanderlust, this highly original and unsettling book will remain with you long after you finish it.ˮ —Katie Roiphe, author of Uncommon Arrangements  

"This is a book that comes from the most urgent and pure place: an obsession with an illusive person who you are sure will solve all the mysteries in your own life. Laura follows the trail to produce a rare book that's both intimate and broad, suspenseful and quiet in all the best ways."
--Hanna Rosin, host of Invisibilia and author of The End of Men

"Seductive . . . a riviting journey mapping the route of two restless women and their search for fulfillment." --Publisher's Weekly

"A bravely introspective tale of wanderlust and lustful wandering." --Kirkus

Viking, 9780399563584, 272pp.

Publication Date: February 6, 2018

About the Author

Laura Smith's writing has appeared in The New York Times, Slate, and Mother Jones. She worked on The Art of Vanishing while on a fellowship at the Banff Arts Centre. She lives in Oakland, California.