A novel in the hands of Idra Novey (Ways to Disappear; Those Who Knew) is one sure to startle and subvert readers' expectations. Her third work of fiction, Take What You Need, maps out tense boundaries in a forgotten town in the Allegheny Mountains, before thoroughly turning those divisions inside out. Leah moved away from this place long ago, but is now returning with her Peruvian husband, Gerardo, and their son, Silvestre, to settle the unconventional estate of her estranged stepmother, Jean, a woman as fierce as she was coarse. Before her death, Jean was madly at work assembling sheet-metal scraps into misshapen boxes she referred to as her "Manglements." After a freak accident with a metal grinder, Jean gained the assistance of her impoverished neighbor, Elliott, the person responsible for contacting Leah after Jean's death, and a man whom Leah recalls grimly from a visit four years prior.
Told in alternating narratives by Leah and Jean, Take What You Need grapples with large-scale xenophobic tensions, as well as the more finely detailed ones among family. But again and again, Novey returns to the persistent question of what it means to make art in spite of everything. Jean is both compelled and repulsed by her craft: "A disdain for my own aspirations rose up my throat like acid reflux at the sight of all the mangled-up boxes I couldn't stop making." And yet, it is one of two things that buoy her against storms of despair; the other is her memories of Leah.
Novey has again crafted a bold and uncompromising novel from a clear-eyed point of view. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness