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And Now You Can Go
by Vendela Vida
ISBN 1400040272 / 9781400040278 / 1-4000-4027-2
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The premise of Vendela Vida's terrific debut novel, And Now You Can Go, seems at first a tad depressing, in a Bernard Goetz, New-York-in-the-1980s kind of way. The narrator, a young woman named Ellis, is walking in Riverside Park when she is held up at gunpoint. The man assures her he doesn't want her money, and he doesn't push her into the bushes to rape her. Ellis notices the designer name on his glasses: Giorgio Armani; she begins to obsess on this detail. Then she starts to recite poetry to him to cheer him up about life. The encounter ends as abruptly as it began, when the man simply runs away down the street. Even though no blood has been shed, Ellis's life is utterly changed.
In fast, clean, funny prose, we find Ellis slipping adrift from her routine as a Columbia grad student and falling into a series of mini-romances. When she goes home to San Francisco for winter break, her mom suggests Ellis join her on a medical mission to the Philippines. The work and the heat and the exhaustion settle her down for the first time since the attack, and she returns to New York a little refreshed. There's one more encounter with the gunman, which Vida plays more comic than tragic. In fact, the strength of this novel is in the way Vida toys with her priorities. The scenes that ought to be fraught and suspenseful have a goofy kind of oh-well voice to them; the scenes that ought to be dull--like Ellis's run-ins with her annoying roommate--exert a weirdly compelling narrative drive. Both the author and her protagonist charm us utterly. --Claire Dederer [via]