Monday, June 6, 2016

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey

Or maybe this half-finished story was fiction and only the details bore a resemblance to their family. For all Raquel knew, her mother's drafts always broke off this way at a difficult moments until her mother figured out what she wanted to do next. In the restaurant scene, just when it seemed as though the woman and her husband were about to have it out with each other, the woman would flee into some surreal description of the fish on her plate winking up at her with its oly eye, or of the man seated at the next table reading a yellowed newspaper from seventy-three years ago. Or her mother would simply write CHECK ON THIS, as if the date of the newspaper or the kind of fish staring up at the woman from her plate mattered tremendously. 

Ways to Disappear by Idra Novey is the story of Brazilian author Beatriz Yagoda and her sudden disappearance. In the first few pages of the novel, Yagoda climbs into a tree with a cigar and a suitcase and then disappears. The rest of the novel follows her translator and two children as they try to track down Yagoda ahead of some terrifying loan sharks.

I had high hopes for this one. The beginning is just odd enough that I thought it might go down a super weird magical realism path and delight me with its oddness, but it didn't quite deliver. The plot takes some odd turns, but mostly just normal mystery novel turns...not Gabriel Garcia Marquez turns, which was what I was hoping for. 

Emma, the translator and protagonist, is a little too desperate to be likeable. She leaves chilly Pittsburgh (and her job teaching "Portuguese to Spanish speakers" to apathetic undergrads, a crazed fiance who forces her on daily pre-dawn runs, and seemingly no friends or interests) for Brazil unannounced, and spends much of the chase seducing or being seduced by Yagoda's son, Marcus. Her seeming obsession with Yagoda (who she refers to almost exclusively as "her author"), borders on the crazy, but not quite crazy enough to make her interesting crazy.

There are some stylistic quirks that Novey pulls off well--chapters separated by little meditations on single words, sections of Yagoda's final, unpublished, and unpublishable novel--and the ways in which she draws attention to diction and language made the prose engaging, but I often found myself enjoying individual sentences more than I was enjoying the book as a whole. There were other jumps in narration that worked less well: increasingly frantic emails from Emma's fiance, excerpts from a radio host's monologues, and some bad poetry.  She also doesn't separate out characters' speech with quotation marks, which I realize is a socially acceptable thing to do, but it drives me crazy. 

I didn't love this one. It was trying to be too many things at once, and as result didn't do any of them well. It's fast paced and exciting--you do want to find out what happens to Yagoda--but all the different voices and little sidenotes left me frustrated. 

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