Take What You Need: A Novel (Hardcover)
A New York Times Notable Book of 2023
The New Yorker Best Books of 2023
NPR's Books We Love 2023
Longlisted for 2024 Joyce Carol Oates Prize
“A heart-rending book, but also a beautiful celebration of ‘the glorious pleasure of erecting something new,’ be it a work of art or a human connection.”—The Wall Street Journal
From “one of the finest and bravest novelists at work today,” (Vulture) award-winning writer Idra Novey has conjured a novel of “astonishing and singular” honesty (Rumaan Alam) with two determined, unforgettable female voices.
Set in the Allegheny Mountains of Appalachia, Take What You Need traces the parallel lives of Jean and her beloved but estranged stepdaughter, Leah, who’s sought a clean break from her rural childhood. In Leah’s urban life with her young family, she’s revealed little about Jean, how much she misses her stepmother’s hard-won insights and joyful lack of inhibition. But with Jean’s death, Leah must return to sort through what’s been left behind.
What Leah discovers is staggering: Jean has filled her ramshackle house with giant sculptures she’s welded from scraps of the area’s industrial history. There’s also a young man now living in the house who played an unknown role in Jean’s last years and in her art.
With great verve and humor, Idra Novey zeros in on the joys and difficulty of family, the ease with which we let distance mute conflict, and the power we can draw from creative pursuits.
Take What You Need explores the continuing mystery of the people we love most with passionate and resonance, this novel illuminating can be built from what others have discarded—art, unexpected friendship, a new contentment of self. This is Idra Novey at her very best.
Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2023 by Oprah Daily, Vulture, Today.com, Elle, and Lit Hub
“[An] odd and beautiful novel about the ineffable impulse to make art, wedged into an exploration of what happens to towns and people left behind.”
—Kristen Martin, NPR
"Idra Novey’s Take What You Need is a story about art and passion, about the people and places who forge us. This singular and astonishing novel probes one of the biggest questions of the day: In a moment of cultural and political fracture, how do we live with one another?"
—Rumaan Alam, author of Leave the World Behind
"Take What You Need is exhilarating, a major novel. I read it in a white heat. Idra Novey writes with ferocious intelligence about the impulse to make beauty in a country coming apart at the seams."
—Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
"Take What You Need is a propulsive, profound, and electric portrait of small-town America’s decline. Jean, the main character, is complex, cantankerous and vulnerable; a character who will remain with you for weeks after you read the book. This is Novey’s most powerful novel yet."
—Cathy Park Hong, author of Minor Feelings
"Novey fully renders the inarticulable parts of artmaking—the antagonism of an artist’s material, the pleasure in that difficulty, the way it troubles tidy ideas of legacy."
—Raven Leilani, author of Luster
"An extraordinarily moving novel. Take What You Need is a masterful depiction of the radical, transformative power of outsider art. I'll never forget Jean and her scavenged metal towers, or the hard-earned beauty and truth waiting at the heart of this stunning new American fairy tale."
—Matt Bell, author of Appleseed
"It's impossible not to become invested in these characters. The palpable tension between Jean and Leah and those they hold close, burns and burns. Reader, you may be emotionally wrecked by this book, but I assure you-- your heart is in the hand of a masterful storyteller.”
—Angie Cruz, author of Dominicana and How Not to Drown in a Glass of Water
"In crystalline sentences, Idra Novey has created a suspenseful work of deep moral imagination. The relationship between step-daughter and mother has the explosive power of fairy tales, myths, and ancient texts."
—Alice Elliott Dark, author of Fellowship Point
“Ms. Novey…is adept at spooling out tensions to keep readers eagerly turning pages. More important, she knows how to forge ‘some new kind of beauty’ by fusing disparate materials—scrap metal, fractured mirrors, camera lenses—that reflect shattered families and egos, dead-end poverty, divisive disdain and distrust, hope and love. Take What You Need is a heart-rending book, but it’s also a beautiful celebration of ‘the glorious pleasure of erecting something new,’ be it a work of art or a human connection.”
—The Wall Street Journal
"A delicate meditation on art, family, and...the difficulties that arise in family life but also on the ways in which such difficulties can't be separated from love."
—The New Yorker
"Novey looks at a young woman’s unresolved feelings toward her family and home, braiding a story of art, ambition and passion."
—Kate Dwyer, The New York Times
“The novel’s cleverness — its commitment to ambivalence and complexity and discomfort — is haunting, and, for a divided nation, it’s a salutary tale.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Novey's prose [is] brisk and direct…the novel fulfills its first line's proposition: as an incantation of an artist's name and, by implication, an artist's way.”
—The Washington Post
“Idra Novey’s new novel proves fiction can be worth a thousand think pieces”
—Los Angeles Times
"Concerned with characters who fall outside easily defined categories, it tackles big questions — like what qualifies as art — as well as the aching human need to be seen...Novey has fashioned an insightful work of art about art."
—The Boston Globe
"A major novel of contemporary America."
—The Financial Times
“A tender, touching tale of family, art, and love.”
"Not all books about art can capture the power of such a pursuit without slipping into saccharine platitudes, but Idra Novey’s Take What You Need is sharp and invigorating."
“In this touching new work, Idra Novey asks questions about how we might contend with our ghosts and how we might repurpose our past.”
—Katie Yee, Lit Hub
"Idra Novey appears capable of doing it all. She is a poet, a translator, and with Take What You Need, her third book of fiction, she is firmly establishing herself as one of the finest and bravest novelists working today… Novey is a master of the small and enormous mysteries that compose every person’s life, and Take What You Need is her most skillful exploration of artistic dedication and the ruins that accrue over the course of a life."
"Grappling with the mysteries we present to one another, Novey pushes back against the fairy tales we’ve told ourselves about polarizing places like Appalachia, spinning a far more artful story."
—The New Republic
"Novey is able to challenge elitism in a most profound way... [Take What You Need] affirms through a keen contemplation on aging and womanhood the life of an artist who finds a way to erect works of art that render breathless those willing to pay attention. Much like the novel itself."
—Cleyvis Natera, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"Idra Novey — also a poet and translator — introduces us to a memorable cast of characters who skillfully illustrate the increasingly stark divide between rural and urban America. While all are well-drawn, the star of the show is clearly Jean, a cantankerous sage, who 'made art seem like something any obsessive loner who craved it could achieve.'"
“Novey explores the mysteries of the creative process, the precariousness of family, and the inherent biases toward unconventional behavior. Novey’s richly complex third novel shows not only a nuanced appreciation for the artistic process but also places such creativity within the toxic distrust sewn by poverty, misogyny, and xenophobia.”
—Booklist (starred review)
"Transforming the odd and the homely into something beautiful is both the subject and the accomplishment of this book."
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A novel in the hands of Idra Novey is one sure to startle and subvert readers’ expectations… Take What You Need grapples with large-scale xenophobic tensions, as well as the more finely detailed ones among family. Novey has again crafted a bold and uncompromising novel from a clear-eyed point of view.”
—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“An agile, intellectually boundless novel about the various languages we inhabit in our search for belonging… At its core, the book is a celebration of the language of art practiced by women on the periphery and their capacity to counter the grammars of oppression that undergird our national and gendered politics. Novey shines a bold light into those foggy liminal spaces that separate urban and rural America, mothers and fathers, parents and children, where understanding has too often failed us.”
—Azareen van der vliet Oloomi, BOMB
"One of the best novels I have read in years. A moving and heartbreaking book about the power of art, connection, and the complex nature of love."
—David Gutowski, Largehearted Boy
"[Take What You Need] more explicitly asks a different and interesting question: is it the making of art that matters or its reception? Readers are left to decide. The novel’s bittersweet ending also shows how complicated family relationships can be: far too often, we are unable to guess the truth of a loved one’s actions and face the difficulty of explaining the emotions that determine our own.”