La Vita Nuova – Allegra Goodman

In “La Vita Nuova” (The New Life) by Allegra Goodman, the author explored a young woman’s disillusion with love.  The short story drew its title from a medieval text of the same name written by Dante Alighieri.  In the story, the protagonist Amanda, stole a copy of this book from the father of a boy whom she babysits.

There were a few areas where this story shone.  Right away the reader was launched into the story with the lines, “The day her fiancé left, Amanda went walking in the Colonial cemetery off Garden Street. The gravestones were so worn that she could hardly read them. They were melting away into the weedy grass. You are a very dark person, her fiancé had said.”  In four lines, the premise of the story was spelled out.  The reader saw a specific side of Amanda.  Mystery was created.  Last of all, a dreamy mood was established, which stayed with the rest of the prose as half-remembered conversations flitted into Amanda’s head along with everything else that was happening.

Amanda’s fiancé was seen only through her eyes, and in the past.  Was it accurate?  How was he really?  The picture we glimpsed of him, was of a young man caught up with her looks, who might not have been too deep, and most likely did not truly see her.  This idea of men not being able to see her was repeated when Nathaniel’s father hits on her and says, “You’re lovely.”

After Amanda lost her job as an elementary school art teacher, she worked over the summer babysitting Nathaniel.  In this time she took refuge in the ease of a relationship with a child.  Everything was straight forward, and the two of them spend hours in their imaginations touring around Boston.  Also, Amanda began painting Russian dolls.  The dolls worked as a great metaphor for the story, but the story was pulled into one the traps of the literary fiction genre.  Dolls equaled metaphor equaled resonant image.  While, thankfully, an epiphany was not completely spelled out, as summer ended Amanda knew what she must do.

“La Vita Nuova” explored love and loss in a way that was soft and measured.  Nothing was rushed in this story, and Amanda’s movements seemed plausible.  While the reader was repeatedly informed by flashbacks to Amanda’s fiancé that she was a “very dark person,” or was like “living with a dark cloud,” and “always sad,” the reader never saw that part of her.  Instead, the reader was left with an image of a thoughtful young woman trying to figure out how people love, and what it means.

Click here to read part of an email exchange with Allegra Goodman regarding this story.

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