Take What You Need

  • Review
By – March 13, 2023

This mov­ing, med­i­ta­tive nov­el takes read­ers deep into the Rust Belt in 2014. Jean and her thir­ty-some­thing ex-step­daugh­ter, Leah, haven’t seen each oth­er since Leah was a child, for rea­sons Leah doesn’t entire­ly under­stand. When they final­ly come back togeth­er, they are con­front­ed with their own bias­es about the sad, beau­ti­ful place that shaped them. It sur­pris­es Jean, a Jew­ish woman, that some young men in her Alleghe­ny Moun­tain com­mu­ni­ty would ever embrace vio­lence, Trump, and the KKK. But Leah, who has spent most of her adult life in Peru and New York City, is sur­prised that oth­er young men strug­gling with pover­ty, drugs, and a lack of direc­tion aren’t vio­lent racists.

Take What You Need alter­nates between Leah’s and Jean’s per­spec­tives and time­lines, fill­ing in gaps of infor­ma­tion that nei­ther woman knows she is miss­ing. Whom the read­er will find more relat­able will vary, but Jean is par­tic­u­lar­ly unfor­get­table. Spunky, inde­pen­dent, and (most­ly) warm, Jean is an ambi­tious, self-taught met­al­work­er in her six­ties. She has spent near­ly her entire life liv­ing in her child­hood home; and she uses her father’s old tools — along with scrap met­al from an estranged family’s yard — to cre­ate ceil­ing-high met­al tow­ers that swirl with glass shards and per­son­al, polit­i­cal, and some­times fun­ny phras­es. Novey’s descrip­tions of Jean’s work will make the read­er wish that her Man­gle­ments,” or totems to authen­tic­i­ty and the imag­i­na­tion, were real.

Idra Novey has weld­ed togeth­er dis­tinct per­spec­tives and expe­ri­ences that illu­mi­nate a par­tic­u­lar sliv­er of Amer­i­ca. It’s a com­pli­cat­ed and lov­ing por­trait that read­ers will remem­ber long after they’ve turned the last page. 

Jessie Szalay’s writ­ing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Aspara­gus, The For­ward, Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Trav­el­er, and as a notable in the Best Amer­i­can Essays of 2017. She lives in Salt Lake City where she teach­es writ­ing in a prison edu­ca­tion program.

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