Fiona Davis Examines the Destructive Lure of Technology in Allegra Goodman’s ‘The Chalk Artist’

in Fiction by

Critically-acclaimed author Allegra Goodman takes a deep dive into the world of virtual reality gaming from multiple perspectives in her new novel, The Chalk Artist. While the choice of subject may at first seem curious, she’s created complex characters who offer crossover appeal to fans of both literary fiction and YA, and is sure to set off sparks in book clubs and conversations.

The Chalk Artist Allegra GoodmanCollin, the artist of the title, is struggling to find his place in the world. When not working as a waiter, he designs magical sets for an itinerant theater company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His forte is drawing on blackboards, creating ephemeral art that disappears with the wipe of an eraser. His romantic interest, Nina, is a first-year teacher, unsure of her authority and wary of her father, the head of a wildly successful gaming company called Arkadia.

When Nina arranges for Collin to work for the company, she’s hoping to help him find his footing, but the lure of artistic and commercial acclaim sends him down a dark road. At the same time, one of Nina’s students, Aidan, has become addicted to Arkadia’s latest game, much to the dismay of his family – an overworked single mother and a concerned twin sister.

Goodman’s portrayal of the underworld of gaming is enchanting, mystical, and surreal. She pulls the reader close with a cinematic paintbrush – we aren’t watching a teenager play a videogame, but are there with him, in that world, brandishing swords and searching for the mysterious Daphne, who teases and enchants. A scene later, we’re awash in the panic of Aidan’s mom at the loss of her brilliant boy to an obsession she doesn’t understand.

With its riveting, intertwining plot lines, Goodman’s latest is a timely, astute gem that every reader will enjoy if they are looking for a thrill.

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AllegraGoodman chalk artistAllegra Goodman’s novels include Intuition, The Cookbook Collector, Paradise Park, and Kaaterskill Falls (a National Book Award finalist)Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker, Commentary, and Ploughsharesand has been anthologized in The O. Henry Awards and Best American Short Stories. She has written two collections of short stories, The Family Markowitz and Total Immersion and a novel for younger readers, The Other Side of the Island. Her essays and reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Boston Globe, and The American Scholar. Raised in Honolulu, Goodman studied English and philosophy at Harvard and received a PhD in English literature from Stanford. She is the recipient of a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Salon Award for Fiction, and a fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced study. She lives with her family in Cambridge, Mass, where she is writing a new novel.

F I O N A was born in Canada and raised in New Jersey, Utah, and Texas. She began her career in New York City as an actress, where she worked on Broadway, off-Broadway, and in regional theater. After ten years, Fiona changed careers, working as an editor and writer, and her historical fiction debut, The Dollhouse, was published in 2016. She's a graduate of the College of William & Mary and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is based in New York City.

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