Vendela Vida’s fearless, critically acclaimed fiction debut follows the unpredictable recovery of a young woman as she tries to make sense of her life after an encounter at gunpoint.
Accosted one afternoon in Riverside Park by a man who doesn't want to die alone, Ellis, a young grad student, talks her way out of the situation by reciting poetry to her desperate captor. He lets her go, but is she free? Rejecting the overtures of her kind-hearted boyfriend, the police, and the suitors who would like to save her, Ellis finds herself unable to escape the event. She leaves the city to visit her family; joins her mother on a medical mission to the Philippines. When she returns, Ellis discovers something more about life–perhaps even how to take back her own.
Ellis, the 21-year-old narrator of Vida's lean, absorbing first novel, is forced at gunpoint to sit and talk with a man in a New York City park as he contemplates a murder/suicide. Like Scheherazade, she reels off half-remembered poems to try to distract the man and keep herself alive. Though nothing more happens on that park bench, she carries on as if treading water in an emotional whirlpool, waiting to get sucked under. A grad student at Columbia, Ellis goes through the various routines expected of the victim of violent crime: reporting the event to the campus police, seeking succor from friends, going to a therapist. But the problem of how to define herself as a victim or not lingers and begins to seep into other parts of her life. She ricochets among a handful of men: Tom, her well-meaning but needy boyfriend; the nameless "representative of the world," an enigmatic grad student; a rich, suicidal ex; and her only potential savior, a colorful, if chauvinistic, ROTC recruit full of chivalric gestures and inappropriate comments. Frustrated, Ellis returns to her home in San Francisco and then accompanies her mother on a charitable trip to the Philippines, where, in a series of surreal vignettes, she assists doctors giving eye surgery to the poor. While a more conventional novel would use this trip as a denouement a kind of reconciliation with her own privilege here it merely underscores the narrator's dreamlike detachment. Despite the high drama of the start, this is an unsentimental tale, in which the classic brush with death elicits a sense of awe as well as anger, and conventional notions of therapy and reconciliation are overturned. The end, unfortunately, arrives just as the book began abruptly and the reader longs for something more. Nevertheless, this remains an intriguing and auspicious debut. was published earlier this summer, she will attract considerable mainstream and alternative media attention. Eleven-city author tour.