Very much a first novel, Vida often grinds her gears.
The front-burner story, and the one that works, concerns art history student Ellis (El), who is held briefly at gunpoint by a young man in New York City. She talks him out of violence by turning the focus to art, Dürer specifically. The man eventually runs off but the damage is done. “I have joined the world of the people dealt unexpected blows,” says El. Suddenly, she’s a human Titanic, quietly hobbled and aloof. Vida deftly handles the post-“incident” cracks, as if keeping El on a traumatic stress monitor.
But when El decides to accompany her mother Anna on a weeklong trip to the Philippines to help out local eye doctors, the book’s momentum lags.