Reality Check

A Cambridge author’s latest novel explores video games and real-world relationships.


The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman
Published by The Dial Press, 352 pages, $27

In her eighth novel, Cambridge author Allegra Goodman describes the virtual wonderland of gaming in such a fantastic style that we become nearly as entranced as her teenage character Aidan. Knights, elves, dragon’s blood, diamonds, arms turning silver, heads decapitated and recapitated—the keyboard magic clicks the wild world of EverWhen into being.

Aidan is the student of idealistic English teacher Nina, daughter of Viktor, a video-game mogul whose company, Arkadia, produces EverWhen. A believer in the magic of poetry, Nina falls in love with Collin, a college dropout who draws beautifully fluid artwork in chalk, graffiti style, and waits tables at Grendel’s in Harvard Square. She eventually introduces Collin to her father, who hires him as an artist at Arkadia, where his talent is both appreciated and constrained.

Meanwhile, Nina slowly lures her reluctant student Aidan away from the screen and into the realms of Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare. They develop a bond that’s quite different from the impersonal connections Aidan makes with role-playing strangers. But Nina, Collin and Aidan all become entwined with one gamer, the dangerous Daphne, whose witchy manipulations span fantasy and reality. Goodman brings sweetness and complexity to Nina and Collin’s romance, and she lends plenty of poetry to Aidan’s travels in and out of the enticing yet disturbing virtual world.

From page 25: Thorny branches overhead turned into talons, flaming twigs to ashen feathers. The forest phoenix woke, and Riyah and Tildor threw themselves onto the bird’s back. The landscape shifted under them as they soared into the air. With each wingbeat, the phoenix carried them over smoldering trees and moonlit fields, twisted sunflowers, stubble glowing with white frost. 

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