If a man wearing Giorgio Armani glasses holds a gun to your head
on a bench in the park but neither physically harms nor robs you,
are you a victim? After a suicidal man does such a thing to her,
Ellis, a graduate student at Columbia University, desperately
searches for an answer to this question throughout “And Now
You Can Go,” a novel by Vendela Vida. With the gun pressed to
her head, she manages to restore the man’s faith in life by
arguing the merits of art and reciting bits of poetry, but she
loses her own faith in the process.
Such a beginning can easily fall into the trap of the
cliché near-death experience followed by a sudden spiritual
revelation. Although Vida’s novel totters dangerously close
to this precipice, the author is careful to stay away from the
sentimentality that would have made such a story unbearable.
Vida’s prose is fast and witty, sprinkled with sharp insights
into human nature. It immediately draws the audience in and holds
them hostage in the fascinatingly twisted world she creates for the
next 50 pages.
But Vida’s best asset, her prose, soon becomes tiresome as
it follows Ellis through her struggle to readjust to life. The
protagonist is overcome by the loneliness that isolates everyone
around her. In response, she pushes away her attentive boyfriend
and seeks solace with a string of lovers that remain distant and
unnamed, including a rough ROTC boy and a red-faced Representative
of the World. The prose remains sharp and quick throughout the
affairs, but Vida is a little bit too successful at cutting out all
the unnecessary explanations of Ellis’ emotional
readjustment. Although the writing reflects the protagonist’s
emotional detachment from the other characters, it leaves the
reader at a cold distance from her as well.
When Ellis makes it home to San Francisco for the holidays, her
mother convinces her to go on a charitable trip to the Philippines
with a group of doctors from the hospital where she works. Although
Vida’s prose saves Ellis from having the cliché
spiritual revelation, she does undergo an undefined fundamental
change as she hands out stuffed animals and sunglasses to a crowd
of clamoring Filipinos.
By the time Ellis returns to Columbia, the story has lost its
direction, leaving the reader unsure what exactly the plot or the
point of the novel was. Ellis undergoes another whirlwind of
not-quite-meaningful encounters with the ROTC boy and the
Representative of the World. Then, shortly after she is reunited
with her best friend from her undergraduate days, the loose ends of
all of Ellis’ unresolved relationships come together as she
faces the man in the Giorgio Armani glasses once again.
Unfortunately, Vida fails to tie them all together in a satisfying
“And Now You Can Go” is a commendable first novel
that shows great promise under its rough edges.
Rating: 3 stars.