And Now You Can Go, Vendela Vida’s first novel, begins with a poem. Ellis, a twenty-one-year-old graduate student at Columbia, is stopped by a man in Riverside Park who puts a gun to her head. He wants to die, he says, but he doesn’t want to die alone. Ellis notices that the gun smells of garlic. She notices that the man ties his shoes with double bows. She begins to recite poetry “like a cheerleader gone haywire.” She tries Ezra Pound, discards Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” (no rape poems!) and Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” (no death poems!), sings the William Carlos Williams poem about plums to the tune of a Liz Phair song, then ends up with the first stanza of Philip Larkin’s “Love”:
The difficult part of love
Is being selfish enough,
Is having the blind persistence
To upset an existence
Just for your own sake.
What cheek it must take.
The man in the park listens, and lets Ellis go. And Now You Can Go is the story of Ellis’s release not only from the man with the gun and the double-knotted shoelaces, but from the past, with all its own vivid scraps of perception, as well. This is a tender and sensual book. The tone is casual, but Vida is never chilly or knowing—she just has a light touch. She is clever and dry and funny, and she honors detail. The unpredictable dip and swell of Ellis’s sensibility creates a giddy momentum. Though nothing much happens in the novel, Vida has written a thriller: a thriller about how we love and how we forgive and when and how we have to choose to do so.
Vida recognizes the seamless bond between the profound and the mundane. Ellis’s roommate leaves her annoying Post-its in verse. “‘Cording to ancient lore,” says a Post-it Ellis finds on the bathroom mirror back at her apartment, “She who doesn’t wash the floor/Owns evil in her true heart’s core/O! Won’t you won’t you do your _?” Poetry in the face of death, poetry in the face of mops. Ellis notes that her roommate
hasn’t talked to me since the night when, drunk, she told me she’d had anal sex with her cousin on Thanksgiving. She’s Catholic and still considers herself a virgin. But now we forget all this. She hugs me, and I smell something familiar: she’s helped herself to my perfume.
Vida’s careful detection and description of defining bits and pieces feel offhand, yet each one pops, like a flash of light, illuminating the scene around it eccentrically.
The man in the park does not kill himself. He does not shoot Ellis. In some ways, this is a spare, impressionistic novel about what does not happen. “Now I’m saying ‘No, no, no,’ in something like a chant,” Ellis says when first confronted by the man and his gun, “and …