cover image Take What You Need

Take What You Need

Idra Novey. Viking, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-593-65285-5

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. (Mar.)