cover image Those Who Knew

Those Who Knew

Idra Novey. Viking, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-525-56043-2

Novey’s propulsive second novel (after Ways to Disappear) follows multiple perspectives of those affected and connected by Victor, a sometimes brutal yet widely beloved man in a position of political power. In an unnamed island nation in the early aughts, Maria P., a young woman who has been introducing the liberal young senator at his rallies, turns up dead. Lena, a professor in her 30s—who herself experienced firsthand the violence and unpredictability that simmer beneath the senator’s wide appeal when they were student radicals together—believes that Victor must be responsible for the woman’s death, and feels compelled to compensate for the decade she has spent in silence about him. While Lena obsesses over her allegation, a wide cast of quirky characters—most notably Freddy, the senator’s gay brother; Olga, a radical former exile and stoner; and Christina, Victor’s politically convenient wife—and their own perspectives help fill in the senator’s other crimes and shortcomings, as well as the circumstances of a changing nation in a changing world. Novey’s storytelling is taut and her diction sharp, and though there are some unnecessary structural turns (scenes from a play Freddy is writing about his brother, newspaper reports), the book nevertheless has a striking sense of momentum. Add in a slight and intriguing sense of the supernatural, and the result is a provocative novel that has the feel of a thriller. (Nov.)