The Austin Chronicle


Reviewed by Kate Cantrill, August 29, 2003, Books

And Now You Can Go

by Vendela Vida

Knopf, 208 pp., $19.95 "It was 2:15 in the afternoon of Dec. 2 when a man holding a gun approached me in Riverside Park." So begins Vendela Vida's debut novel, And Now You Can Go, a story so tenderly conveyed it feels familiar. Vida's heroine, Ellis, seems surprised by the extent to which this violent encounter has affected her, surprised by her capacity to feel vulnerable. Ellis' troubles are more complicated than overcoming pure fear. She becomes acutely aware of the gestures, intentions, and motives of everyone she meets, especially the men with whom she has made love, been in love, or whom she might love in the future. But Vida doesn't rely on preconceived notions of distrust between women and men -- "This is how we divide the family," she writes, "the women versus the man" -- instead she keeps the struggle so purely internal that each revelation comes as much of a surprise to the reader as it does to her protagonist.

It's a challenge to not fall in love with Vida's characters, from Tom, the man who neglects his health, to the ROTC boy who offers to kill for Ellis. They each possess a balance of kindness and anger that makes them real and unpredictable. Likewise, Ellis' mother and best friend Sara are so beautifully rendered you wish that you could touch them.

Vida's style is succinct and precise. Her exactness feels careful, hygienic, yet sometimes it feels free and hilarious, shifting along with Ellis' emotional state. Frequently there appears a line that is equally humorous and heartbreaking, as when Ellis associates the smell of garlic with her attacker and has difficulty removing the smell from her body: "I take a shower and wash my hair onetwothreefourfive -- five times"; or when a doctor asks her to tell her where she hurts: "I touch my feet. Then my thighs. I cup my breasts and then squeeze the hard rims of my ears. I don't know where to start."

Whereas the premise might suggest a fight, Vida has written an enormously giving and heartfelt exploration in which Ellis shows what strength might be gained through recognizing both personal vulnerability and the great necessity for empathy.

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