Take What You Need
By Idra Novey
Viking Books: March 14, 2023
256 pages, $28.00
Take What You Need is as dark and twisty a story as the road through the Appalachians to the tiny, dying southwest Virginia town where Leah grew up with her father and eccentric artist stepmother Jean.
After they became estranged, Leah went on to college and lived abroad for several years. Their one attempt at a reconciliation was rife with difficulties. Years later, when Leah learns that Jean has passed away, she decides to return with her husband Gerardo and toddler son Silvestre. The hinge of the story is Jean’s fraught friendship with her young neighbor, Elliott, whom Leah meets when she returns home.
In the interim, Jean struggled with both her art and loneliness. Making use of discarded metal objects and other items, she welds them into towers of various shapes and sizes that she calls Manglements. Elliott, unemployed and often sitting on his front porch, becomes her assistant, friend, and inspiration. Will they save each other, Novey seems to ask? The answer is as complicated as life in this time and place.
Take What You Need alternates the first person narratives of Leah and Jean, moving back and forth in time. Her approach captures the fragmented relationship and complex misunderstandings of two people with good intentions but vastly different sensibilities and communication styles. At the same time, Novey presents a picture of a small town that has succumbed to economic, cultural, and criminal challenges that Americans have been witnessing for decades. The recent opioid abuse/addiction crisis has swallowed up countless lives and communities.
As with Novey’s previous novel, Those Who Knew, this is a story of a difficult and timely issue told with insight and compassion.
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