And Now You Can Go

In this often humorous first-person narration, author Vendela Vida portrays the fragmentation that results after an encounter with danger. A graduate student in art history at Columbia University, El, named after Ellis Island by her Italian immigrant mother, is accosted by a man who plans to kill himself but does not want to die alone. Trying to show him the beauty in life, El recites poems by Ezra Pound, William Butler Yeats, and Philip Larkin. Even though he eventually runs off, she is traumatized. She reports the incident to the police, seeks counseling, and talks to her friends. However, the event defines her and colors everyone’s reaction to her as well.

Returning to her California home for Christmas, El finds emotional support in her mother, a surgical nurse, and her sister Freddie visiting from England. Perhaps El’s difficulties reach back farther than the man with the gun. When she and her sister were children, her father unexpectedly disappeared for four years only to appear one day sitting on the couch watching television.

During the vacation, El accompanies her mother on a week-long medical mission to the Philippines. Their unit is assigned to perform cataract surgery for the indigent, including a blind mother of three who has never seen her youngest. The experience begins El’s own healing. Once back in New York she realizes that there are other stories to be told, and she moves towards forgiveness not only for her assailant but also for her father.

Vendela Vida’s first book Girls on the Verge (1999) is a collection of short stories, and in And Now You Can Go she has not quite moved beyond the short story genre. The chapter set in Manila, well developed and engrossing, shows what Vida can accomplish.