Guest Post by Kevin Brown
Novey’s novel alternates between Jean and Leah’s narration of their relationship, following Leah’s trip to Jean’s house now that she has died. Jean was Leah’s stepmother before she left Leah’s father, and he forbade any interaction between the two. They only saw each other once in the intervening years, and that meeting didn’t go well. Jean has been welding sculptures in her living room with the help of Elliott, a young man who lived next door for a time, taking inspiration from two twentieth-century female sculptors. She finds a freedom and solace in her art that eluded her for most of her life. Leah works as a translator in New York City and looks on her childhood home in rural New York with skepticism, especially when Donald Trump begins his campaign for president. The novel explores the divide between the small towns that have deteriorated over the past years and the larger cities that have thrived. Leah is suspicious of Elliott due to that divide, and the misunderstanding that takes place during Leah and Jean’s meeting is complicated because of the broader political climate. This work, though, also holds up the power of art—especially art from overlooked female creators. Leah’s final narration imagines a scenario that might exist, but might not. Leah says that, for the sake of the tale she’s telling, a number of events happen (which lead to Jean’s artworks ultimately ending up in a museum), even, possibly, one other woman who sees the sculpture (that might be in a museum, but might not be) and finds inspiration to create her own art.
Take What You Need by Idra Novey. Viking, March 2023.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite or kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.