I wish time didn’t run out in class so quickly on Tuesday, leaving us with so many interesting conversations unspoken, but alas, I suppose that is the purpose of this blog. I loved “La Vita Nuova” by Allegra Goodman. I found myself thoroughly entranced, and upset when I had to stop reading momentarily to go to an appointment. As I read of her family and friends’ reactions to Amanda’s situation, I screamed for her. I yelled “Fuck you!” to characters while sitting in my empty room.
“I waited all this time because I didn’t want to hurt you, Amanda’s fiance had said,” “you’re going to realize that this is a blessing in disguise,”[her parents] remembered that they had had doubts all along.”
Their cliched encouragement or excuses sickened me. Oh you didn’t want to hurt me? How sweet, poor you, thanks for stringing me along! Is any of this believable? I honestly became enraged as a proxy for the feelings and responses (that I perceived) she left unspoken. Amanda’s co-worker laments for “beautiful curls” after Amanda cuts off all her hair. For obvious reasons, that one really rubbed me the wrong way.
At a time of such devastation, you can feel pain as numbness, unable to speak or respond or react normally. You feel so powerless, and that translates to feeling silenced. Every word, every sentence is courageous and difficult, and you feel fear that your words will be rejected or dismissed. I know not everyone experiences this, so perhaps it is presumptuous of me to postulate that she reacted this way. We can’t help but insert our own stories and experiences into others, to relate them to each other. I felt all the useless advice and suggestions and demands, and understood her isolation, but presumed that she was feeling the way I feel at such frustrating conversations–seething and annoyed that everyone focuses on the surface, rather than acknowledging and working with the real pain, the real needs she had to deal with.
During times when I am silent, it seems obvious to me that others should intuitively know how I’m feeling and what I need, or at least that they will make an effort to ask me. Of course, I’ve had to realize that others can’t do that–I have to establish an intimate relationship with someone such that I feel comfortable enough sharing those inner pains and problems. I think many people operate in the same way. The main character, however, doesn’t really seem to have that intimacy or trust with anyone in her life, especially after losing the person she thought would be her most intimate companion for the rest of her life, and therefore doesn’t have that vulnerability with the reader.
She desires the ability to just “be” and nothing more, but knows that real life and adults expect tangible things from her. Even though her parents probably have her best interest at heart,they are quick to reminder her that they “paid for Yale,” and nudge her in specific directions. Nathaniel’s mother nags about her tardiness. His father directs unwanted attentions towards her, expecting reciprocation. With Nathaniel she is able to be herself, to be accepted without the pressures she feels from others. At the same time, it is her job to protect Nathaniel and help him grow; she can’t use him as a confidant because he’s too young to offer the help and encouragement she needs.
Amanda definitely also touches on the nature of artists needing to be tortured in order to create great works. The title of the story ensures we notice that peculiar component. The work by Dante (La Vita Nuova) encourages poets, writers, and artists to create tragedy (real or simulated) in their lives (especially relating to love) in order to produce better art/poetry. I haven’t thought much about it, but I was wondering how all of you interpreted this in the story, and your opinion on the nature of making art?
I’d love to hear other thoughts or reactions on this. To comment on my post, go to hybrid.lydiabickell.com where you will find this under “Posts.”
Photo source: https://archive.org/details/lavitanuovadidan00dantuoft