Take What You Need
“Set in the rural poverty of Rust Belt America, Idra Novey centres an estranged step mother-step daughter relationship to powerful yet tender effect. Each chapter of this brilliant novel offers Jean and Leah’s alternating points of view of the same events, which reveal their relationship and in turn, the ambivalence of a polarised America. This is also in large part a novel about the processes and dedication of artmaking as Jean lives out her last days creating giant metal sculptures. Novey subverts stereotypes and traditional power balances in her depiction of these relationships in isolation and asks questions about the knowability of those we love. She leaves us with no easy answers, just what is left unsaid, which ultimately is the most moving thing about this book. A must!”
‘Exhilarating, a major novel. I read it in a white heat.’ Garth Greenwell
‘Deft and surprising.’ Rumaan Alam
‘Fully renders the inarticulable parts of artmaking.’ Raven Leilani
This morning, I read that repeating the name of the deceased can quiet the mind when grieving for complicated people. My stepmother Jean was a complicated person.
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.
Set in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need explores the continuing mystery of the people we love most, zeroing in on the joys and difficulties of family with great verve and humour, and illuminating what can be built from what others have discarded.
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