And Now You Can Go
Vendela Vida
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And Now You Can Go
Vendela Vida
208 pages
August 2004
rated 3 of 5 possible stars

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Twenty-one year old Ellis is just an ordinary Columbia graduate student -- until she is accosted and held up at gun point in Riverside Park. The assailant insists he has no intention of robbing Ellis or harming her. Instead, he professes that he wis lonely, depressed, and eager to have someone by his side as he contemplates taking his own life. In an effort to evade danger, Ellis engages the intruder in seemingly insignificant conversation. When she finds herself at a loss for words, she recites some poetry that entices the intruder to voluntarily retreat. This incident, or perhaps more accurately Ellisís reaction to this incident, is the foundation for Vendela Vidaís debut novel And Now You Can Go. The book explores numerous facets of Ellisís life after this traumatic event, attempting to explain how this incident changes her.

Ellisís love life falls to pieces as, within hours of the incident, she ends a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, Tom. From there she finds herself developing superficial relationships with a wide array of men, each of whom seems to have less in common with her than the one who came before.

As winter break approaches, Ellis decides to accompany her mother to the Philippines on a charitable mission to restore eyesight to impoverished natives. The description of this excursion is one of the most well-thought out and developed portions of the novel. The writing is clear and concise and does a fine job of detailing the gravity of the situation for the men, women and children who find themselves without adequate medical care. In one instance, Ellis questions the performance of the seemingly routine eye surgery on only one eye of a young mother dedicated to raising her four small children. Ellis is dispassionately told that if the doctors were to perform two operations on this one particular woman, that would mean that another patient would be deprived of the restoration of her sight in even one eye. This immediate, calculated, and seemingly logical response reinforces the limited time and resources afforded to the mission.

While the novel chronicles Ellis's life after the traumatic event, its fatal flaw is the absence of a basis of comparison for her behavior. Since the novel starts off with the incident in Riverside Park, there is no way to know, for example, whether her dating behavior is in response to the trauma or whether it is merely a continuation of her past practices. Similarly, since neither her relationship with her family nor her interest in charitable causes is explored before the incident, there is no way to determine whether her actions would have been any different has she not been accosted by the man with the gun.

And Now You Can Go is well-written, and a few sections might be able to stand on their own as short stories or vignettes examining the trials and tribulations of a young Columbia graduate student trying to discover herself. The problem is that there is a stark disconnect between virtually all of the stories and the incidents in Riverside Park. While a readerís vibrant imagination might be able to connect the multiple stories, it seems that this task would be more well-suited to the author trying to tell a story. Absent such explanations, the novel is merely a host of different parts which fail to come together to create any meaningful whole.

© 2003 by Lori West for Curled Up With a Good Book

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