DH: Allegra Goodman‘s new short story in the May 3rd New YorkerLa Vita Nuova, does what’s almost impossible. It opens with “The day her fiance´ left” and avoids any trace of the bathetic. One way AG does this is to show her character in a striking action: Amanda takes her vintage wedding gown to the children’s art class where she teaches and has the kids turn it into a craft project.

Here’s another great stroke: radical emotions mean a disconnect from business as usual. When Amanda’s supervisor sees she is using her classroom as personal therapy, it lays the groundwork for her dismissal. I also loved her girlfriend’s line about how, when guys break off a commitment, they have someone else waiting in the wings: Her ex marries another woman that summer.

There is a schism here between women’s fiction and guy reads, isn’t there? I know that Goodman is interested in pulverizing Amanda to the bone in order to see what she can make of this character. So there is storytelling sense in having Amanda both jilted and fired. But it’s harder for me to imagine a story where the guy gets jilted and tries to recover. Guys wouldn’t read a story like that. They don’t ever want to see themselves as victims. They want to commit the act, even if it involves wrongdoing. Anything rather than be the sufferer. But women, it seems to me, will eat up a story like La Vita Nuova alive.

I wanted to find out what would happen to Amanda as well. I was fascinated that Goodman, employing a clarifying prose technique, managed not to turn me off by having Amanda wallow in emotions. There are no puddles of tears in this story even though Amanda is certainly entitled to cry. But there is no denial either. I’m a crier myself (“Oh, he’s crying again.”) so I’m impressed. Awesome.

Swift declarative sentences corral emotions. Sentences that move with the agility of cats. There are no leaden pauses, nothing to keep you from forward motion. As these cats…sentences…glide through the grass, no inert descriptive passages, like dead branches, impede their progress. Wonderful.

And when Amanda says that she would like to tell the wedding guests that the marriage is off but she would like to keep the presents, you get a sample of the subzero irony that recurs in every third or fourth line. What you sense of her sadness is in the warping of the sentences. Tear-free story, guys.

AG’s take on Dante’s La Vita Nuova is hilarious. It’s like the Marx Brothers take on the text and I’d like to see this interpretation get past a lit professor. Totally subversive. Male gaze be damned.

But AG wimped-out on me in the end. You have to read the story to see if you want to fight me on this. Lessons are learned. This is trite. Dark paths not taken: short story. Dark path taken: novel. Maybe it’s the temptation of short story writing to tie up everything too tightly in the end. With novel writing there is scope for more sophisticated forms of closure.

TAGS: , , , ,

3G1B is the collaboration of four friends and colleagues in the book business. Together, they review books and stories, interview authors, and maintain an ongoing conversation about publishing, bookselling, writing, pr, and nearly anything else.

JONATHAN EVISON is the author of All About Lulu and West of Here and TNB's Executive Editor. He likes rabbits. He also likes being the ambiguous fourth guy in the “Three Guys” triumvirate. He is the founder of the secret society, The Fiction Files (if he told, he’d have to kill you). He has a website, but it’s old. Just google him.

DENNIS HARITOU has bought books for Barnes and Noble for seven years, for warehouse clubs for five, and has led a book club. He is currently Director of Merchandise at Bookazine.

JASON CHAMBERS has been in the book business for over fifteen years, including tenures as General Manager/Buyer at Book Peddlers in Athens, GA, and seven years as a Buyer and Merchandise Manager at Bookazine. He now works as an bookstore consultant and occasional web designer.

JASON RICE has worked in the book business for ten years at Random House in sales and marketing and Barnes & Noble as a community relations manager. Currently he is an Assistant Sales Manager and Buyer at Bookazine. His fiction has appeared in several literary magazines online and in print. He was once the pseudonymous book reviewer Frank Bascombe for Ain’t It Cool News. He’s taught photography to American students in the South of France, worked as a bicycle messenger in New York City, and for a long time worked very hard in the film & television business in NYC. Production experience includes the television shows Pete & Pete, Can We Shop ( Joan Rivers' old shopping show), and the films The Pallbearer, Flirting With Disaster, and countless commercials---even a Christina Applegate movie that went straight to video.

2 responses to “La Vita Nuova by Allegra Goodman”

  1. johnshade says:

    “But it’s harder for me to imagine a story where the guy gets jilted and tries to recover. Guys wouldn’t read a story like that.”

    Try “Netherland.” Or “The Sportswriter.” Just to name a couple of obvious examples off the top of my head.

  2. Thanks for finally talking about >Jason Chambers, Jonathan Evison, Dennis Haritou, & Jason Rice <Liked it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *