The Rumpus Interviews Idra Novey

Leave What You Can, Take the Rest: An Interview With Idra Novey

By Haley Sherif

When I first came across Idra Novey’s Take What You Need, I was interested firstly by the title and, then, by the cover. There was something mysterious and inviting about the call to action paired with the pinks and blues of a sunset. Wandering into the novel, I took an immediate sense of comfort in the voices of our two protagonists, Leah and Jean. Both mothers, both artists, neither completely self-assured.

Take What You Need is a book about perspective. The narrative is shaped by the parallel lives of Jean — welder, artist, ex step-mother to Leah — and Leah — a wife and mother who has chosen to leave her past behind. Jean lives alone, erecting metal sculptures in her living room, battling the overt sense that her relationship with Leah refuses to ever be what it once was, and determined to reunite with her daughter. Jean seeks redemption in a relationship with the boy-next-door, a gangly kid named Elliot. Their neighborhood provides the landscape for the novel, weaving the overwhelming sense of displacement provoked by class and cultural conflict into the relationship between two women divided by a critical moment in the past. We begin our story in medias res: Jean has died and willed her sculptures to Leah who makes her skeptical journey homeward.

When reading Novey’s writing, you are likely to forget that what transpires on the page is not in fact transpiring in reality. I looked up occasionally to glimpse a hand-wrought sculpture by Jean and was met with the whiteness of my wall. Similarly, having recently become familiar with the Southern landscape myself, I could easily imagine the roads and the gas stations, the natural scenery that made me let out a long breath and the neighborhoods that could make me hold the next in tightly, wanting to call the least amount of attention to myself. Novey straddles the fine line between depicting the world we live in and finely illustrating her own.

Novey is the writer of six additional books, three of which are poetry collections including, Exit, Civilian, chosen for 2011 National Poetry Series. She is a recipient of awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and Poets & Writers Magazine, among others. Check out the full interview at the Rumpus.

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