A New York Times Notable Book of 2023
The New Yorker Best Books of 2023
L.A. Times 13 Best Novels of the Year
Author Pick in The Guardian for Best Books of 2023
NPR's Books We Love 2023
Longlisted for 2024 Joyce Carol Oates Prize
“A heart-rending book, but also a beautiful celebration of ‘the glorious pleasure of erecting something new,’ be it a work of art or a human connection.”—The Wall Street Journal
From “one of the finest and bravest novelists at work today,” (Vulture) award-winning writer Idra Novey has conjured a novel of “astonishing and singular” honesty (Rumaan Alam) with two determined, unforgettable female voices.
Set in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need traces the parallel lives of Jean and her beloved but estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who’s sought a clean break from her rural childhood. In Leah’s urban life with her young family, she’s revealed little about Jean, how much she misses her stepmother’s hard-won insights and joyful lack of inhibition. But with Jean’s death, Leah must return to sort through what’s been left behind.
What Leah discovers is staggering: Jean has filled her ramshackle house with giant sculptures she’s welded from scraps of the area’s industrial history. There’s also a young man now living in the house who played an unknown role in Jean’s last years and in her art.
With great verve and humor, Idra Novey zeros in on the joys and difficulty of family, the ease with which we let distance mute conflict, and the power we can draw from creative pursuits.
Take What You Need explores the continuing mystery of the people we love most with passionate and resonance, this novel illuminating can be built from what others have discarded—art, unexpected friendship, a new contentment of self. This is Idra Novey at her very best.
Novey (Those Who Knew) unfurls a blistering if uneven two-hander about culture clashes in contemporary Southern Appalachia. Leah, an editor living in New York City, drives to her remote and blighted hometown in the Alleghanies after receiving word of her artist stepmother, Jean's accidental death. A young man named Elliott delivered the news, explaining that he'd been living with Jean when she fell from a ladder while building one of her "Manglements" from scrap metal, and the sculptures are now Leah's. Leah's uneasy about making the trek with her Spanish-speaking husband and young son, whose presence elicits a tense and nightmarish encounter with xenophobic patrons of a rural gas station. Much backstory ensues over the course of Leah's winding trip in her and Jean's alternating chapters, showing the self-taught Jean hiring Elliot, an idle neighbor living in the Section 8 house next door, as an assistant. Some of these scenes are well done, with low-level tension as Jean and Elliot gradually warm to each other and an excellent staging of a mishap involving a grinder and a life-threatening gash, but others are a bit too drawn out. For example, when Leah finally arrives and recognizes Elliot, she's unnerved, and the teased-out details about why she feels this way don't quite bring about the intended crisis point. Still, Novey brings nuance to depictions of the marginalized locals from Jean's point of view. It's a solid effort, but it doesn't have the power of the author's previous outing.
Kept me reading. Quirky, sad, gave me insight into misunderstandings and life taking unfortunate turns