Take What You Need by Idra Novey
In Idra Novey’s compelling Take What You Need, we’re in an America currently being made ‘great’ again, with flags flying proudly from sea to shining sea, where kindness or any welcome to strangers is currently not on offer, the Statue of Liberty now rendered meaningless. The background to Leah’s journey as contradictory as her off and on relationship with her stepmother Jean. Whose death has prompted a reckoning with her rapidly declining hometown, the early years of childhood and the years when her contact with Jean frayed and then fractured. Who is Jean’s fucked up and mysterious helper Elliott? How did she survive for so long in the mean streets of Trump’s America while making her outsider art? And what led to her death? Jean with her subscription to Artforum, inspired by the lives, words and works of women artists like Louise Bourgeois and Agnes Martin, a front room filled with giant metal sculptures or in Jean’s words her exorcisms and “Manglements”. Leah, inevitably, left with questions about how on earth her stepmother had come to this, “The living room is nothing like what I remember stepping into as a small child. Jean had packed the room with so many immense piles of metal cubes that there’s barely space to move around inside. Hundreds of tarnished metal spikes jut out of the sides of the cubes, which are covered with brightly painted sayings. Some of the towers reach to the ceiling “. Told in alternate chapters both character’s voices are superbly rendered as they travel back and forth in time telling the story of their history together and apart. Jean, a working-class woman, who, against expectations and history, forges a new life and asks for little in return. Leah, divorced from the class she escaped from, with complicated and fraught memories of her stepmother, now bumping up against the nascent artist whose work is the perfect memorial: awkward, incredible, fascinating, haunting. Idra Novey’s Take What You Need is one of this year’s best novels.
Take What You Need – Idra Novey – publ. Daunt Books - £9.99