A young woman’s sudden identity crisis propels her to the isolated reaches of Lapland in Vida’s powerful second novel.
Clarissa, a New Yorker in her late 20s, is hit by a pair of emotional shocks within the space of a week: Her father has died of a heart attack, and while rummaging through his possessions, she discovers that he was not her biological father. There’s nobody close to comfort her in the midst of this crisis. She’s deeply wounded that her fiancé, Pankaj, knew and never told her, and her mother has been missing and presumed dead for years. There is nothing for Clarissa to do except fly to Helsinki, get to Lapland—a 21-hour trek by bus and train—and find Eero, the man her birth certificate says is her father. Lapland’s austerity and distance from New York is a small comfort, but Clarissa’s interactions with the locals reveal that her personal history is even more complicated than she had thought. That learning process unlocks a host of bad memories—being raped as a teenager, looking for her mother in Texas and later holding a funeral for her. This kind of material often gets shaped into a fish-out-of-water tale that closes with comforting reconciliations. But Vida (And Now You Can Go, 2003) is having none of that: This is a sharp, sometimes brutal, portrait of a woman who feels her persona has been wiped away and wants to start over, not heal. Her careful, unadorned prose neatly reveals Clarissa’s mix of damage and resolve, echoing Raymond Carver’s minimalism while retaining the warmth that so many Carver imitators lack. And Vida’s evocative descriptions of life in Lapland—the reindeer herds, the slow pace of the locals, a hotel made of snow and ice—underscore the themes of isolation and otherworldliness but never overwhelm the core story of Clarissa’s despair.
A luminescent and evocative tale of grief, free of the standard clichés.