We Run the Tides

Vendela Vida

Published by Ecco US/ Atlantic UK, 9 February/6 May 2020

272pp, hardback, $26.99

Reviewed by Elsbeth Lindner

 

If it’s wicked pleasure you’re after – flavored with Mean Girls and a light sprinkling of social/political commentary – look no further than Vida’s latest, a coming-of-age tale set in the privileged San Francisco suburb of Sea Cliff during the pre-tech 1980s. In this relatively less turbulent moment, the large homes with sweeping views of the Golden Gate bridge belonged not to tech entrepreneurs but wealthy and sometimes bohemian families, many of whose daughters attended the Spragg School. So it is for Eulabee, the older of two siblings to a gallery-owning father and Swedish émigré mother. Eulabee’s BFF is Maria Fabiola, a sugar heiress of outstanding comeliness. Two other girls make up their set of four, but everything goes awry for Eulabee on the morning that the foursome encounters a possible creepy male, on their way to school. Three of the girls report this incident as sexual harassment; Eulabee begs to differ.

Now she is ostracized from the group, and despite her robust character, she suffers all the pain of this sudden exclusion. Matters are made worse when Maria Fabiola disappears. Has she been kidnapped or, as Eulabee suspects, is something more weirdly self-aggrandizing going on?

Despite serious undertones, there is much comedy to be found in the novel, deriving from Eulabee’s deadpan directness which may be a little advanced for her teenage years, nevertheless offers guiltily-enjoyable judgementalism towards many easy targets, from her parents’ thrifty, often Swedish habits, to her privileged social group. Also under the microscope are boys, sexual exploration, menstruation, booze – all predictable enough targets, but evocatively done.

Yet, for all her icy smarts and quick wit, Eulabee is a sensitive soul whose attachments are sincere and thus whose alienation at the hands of both male and female friends runs deep. A destructive spiral of self-absorption leads her into plotting an escape of her own, but Eulabee is not a fantasist, unlike her friend, and coming to her senses means setting her life on a different, more grounded trajectory.

A last chapter, delivered decades later, traces Eulabee’s intervening years, career, marriage and eventual resettlement. Concluding with an encounter between Eulabee and Maria Fabiola on the dreamy isle of Capri, Vida draws a deeper distinction between the then and now, the real and the fake, the honest broker and the liar. This epilogue delivers darker roots to an otherwise relatively easy-to-consume piece of work. It’s welcome but doesn’t change the book’s overall impact. Vida writes compellingly. She enjoys woman-centered scenarios and the exploration of character enigmas. This is one of those, and it’s an unthreatening pleasure.

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