And Now You Can Go by Vendela Vida (Anchor, 2004, 208pp.)
Ellis, a college student, is held at gunpoint in a public park by a man who claims he doesn’t want to die alone. It’s a beginning that few readers can resist, made all the more interesting by Ellis’s response: she distracts the gunman from his deadly plans by babbling about whatever comes to mind—art, poetry, etc. He appears baffled not by her reaction, but by the poetry she recites. He runs off, leaving her unharmed but in shock. The remaining 200 pages describes how she deals with (or rather, doesn’t deal with) her ordeal: her father returns after abandoning his family years earlier, Ellis has a number of bland sexual encounters with a handful of equally unremarkable men, while the gunman’s shadow lurks in the background. How will her brush with death affect how she interacts with her father? With the men she dates? Vida’s story is so rich with possibility, yet she fails to bring anything to a satisfactory conclusion. Undeveloped subplots and a flimsy cast of two-dimensional characters drag the pacing to a crawl. The ending of this forgettable tale, which climaxes with Ellis’s second and final confrontation with the gunman, is beyond disappointing. While a regrettable case of first-novel syndrome might be offered as an excuse for this novel’s resulting flop, I can only really recommend it to those who are intrigued by Vida’s work after seeing the movie Away We Go, which she co-wrote with her husband, Dave Eggers.
Click on cover for image source.