We Run the Tides – Vendela Vida (Ecco, 2021)
We Run the Tides is set in San Francisco, the wealthy neighbourhood of Sea Cliff, in 1984-1985. This is San Francisco pre-tech boom, a place of wealth but also a hippy city set on the ocean, where the inhabitants have acquired their wealth in a variety of ways with a variety of backgrounds. Our narrator is Eulabee, a teenage girl whose parents are well off but frugal, neither of them coming from privileged backgrounds. Eulabee’s best friend is Maria Fabiola and together with their other friends Julia and Faith, they are navigating life on the cusp of adolescence. Their bodies are changing, their interests are changing. They are realizing both their new power and their vulnerabilities as young women. Walking together to school one day, the girls claim to have seen something that changes the neighbourhood around them. Only Eulabee insists that the story is false. When Maria Fabiola vanishes soon after, the idea of truth and storytelling is one that will follow Eulabee for the rest of her life.
The blurb for this book makes it sound more like a suspense story than I would say it actually is. Maria Fabiola’s disappearance is an important part of the plot but I wouldn’t say that it is what the novel is about. With Eulabee as our narrator, we see the events differently and in perhaps a more complicated light than we might otherwise. The novel is really about friendship, what can cause that friendship to rupture. It’s about storytelling and truth and the ways people, particularly women, access power and gain attention. While the events of the novel may be extreme, it is the characters that are so strong and make this tale feel so familiar. I’m willing to bet many of us either made up or witnessed others make up tall tales at around this age. Why do people make up stories that seem blatantly false? What do they happen to gain? What is the fall out when others believe them? These are the questions that Vida explores with great empathy and subtlety.
We Run the Tides was hugely readable; I brought it home from the library and finished it in two days. A section at the end, set in 2019, casts the entire story in a more adult light and gives the reader a sense of why Eulabee is choosing to share her own history. I’ve never read anything from Vida before but I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for her work now.