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Publisher's Summary

A young woman chafing at the confines of marriage confronts the high cost of craving freedom and adventure

At 25, 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.

©2018 Laura Smith (P)2018 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

"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

What listeners say about The Art of Vanishing

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Hannah Reinish
  • 05-04-20

An Excellent Book

A thoughtful and sincere examination of driving forces for love, lust, and adventure.

Highly recommended for anyone battling to reconcile yearnings for comfort and exploration. The two stories expose the struggles of restless hearts trying to keep rhythm in modern domesticity. A beautiful story of uncertainty.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Rhonda L.
  • 25-01-20

Beautifully honest and brave

The author’s desire to live a life void of meaningless rituals and white picket fences is relatable and refreshing. Her efforts to pursue such a lifestyle, as well as her ability to share the rollercoaster of raw emotions experienced during that pursuit, is both inspiring and admirable. Finally, the honesty within herself, in terms of things she’s drawn to, what she wants to explore, and how she wants to feel, is beautifully brave. I recommend this memoir to any reader who feels trapped by a lineal, limited path in life.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • Nancy
  • 12-09-18

To Repetitive

Way too long, would not recommend the book. Enjoyed the true facts of the story and the quest/journey the author had up to a point. Then I just wanted it to end!!

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Laurie
  • 20-04-18

This book is a slog

This book wasn’t for you, but who do you think might enjoy it more?

I thought I would really like this book because I love memoir, especially with the twist of a mystery about a adventurous woman who vanished, but this book took what could have been an interesting subject and just devolved into the author's wishful thinking into how it might maybe mirror some themes in her own life and marriage - I don't think it did. The author comes across as a somewhat immature narcissist, and I dislike her so much, it was hard to make myself finish the book.

What do you think your next listen will be?

Something by Rebecca Solnit.

Would you be willing to try another one of Laura Smith’s performances?

No, the author narrated her own book and often overstressed random words and her tone at the end of sentences dropped off so it was hard to hear what those words were.

What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

Disappointment and wonder that her editor didn't rein her in.