Emily Mead
August 27, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

On the very first page of Mrs. Dave Eggers’ highly anticipated first novel, And Now You Can Go, Ellis, an eccentric but self-assured Columbia grad student, is held at gunpoint on a park bench by a man who wants’to die but is afraid to do so alone. In the annoyingly puerile passage that follows (”There’s so much good stuff out there!’There’s painting!… There’s poetry!”), she persuades him to let her go. Jarred by this uncategorizable ”crime,” she spends the next few months muddling through wrongheaded relationships and an impromptu trip abroad, unable to think of herself as a victim or to shake off the incident. As Ellis gradually returns to life, her unadorned narration is honest, quirky, and surprisingly compelling.

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