Allegra Goodman, "La Vita Nuova"

Back to The New Yorker after eloping with One Story for a while. Once I’ve posted a note on Jeffrey Eugenides’s story (from June 7, 2010), I’ll resort to the minimalism I announced a couple posts ago: I’ll write comments only on especially strong stories. Afterward, there’ll be a small series of posts on books about craft.

Allegra Goodman’s “La Vita Nuova” (TNY, May 3, 2010) fits snugly into a mold I’ve mentioned before: quotidian stories that hint at deep psychological struggles in a blasé, offhand, and symbolic manner. In this case, an art teacher called Amanda is dumped by her fiancé after the invitations for the wedding had already been sent out (ouch, I know). Her parents try to be supportive, the school doesn’t rehire her because her personal life interferes with her work, and she spends the summer babysitting one of her former students. Her life doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The story ends with a high-decibel scene in which Amanda says goodbye to the boy and announces she is moving back to New York.

The story mixes up snippets of Amanda’s fiancé, her babysitting, her parents. The imprint of the literary workshop is visible in this, but still there are good lines and there is something hypnotic about Amanda’s lethargy and something unsettling about the art she produces. The second paragraph expresses her pessimism in two ways, one of them over the top (she “sat in her half-empty closet”) and the other subtler and more effective (the “wedding dress hung in clear asphyxiating plastic”: the adjective is doubly powerful because her fiancé called her “suffocating”). “La Vita Nuova” reminds me of Claire Keegan’s “Foster,” minus the tenderness.


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