Idra Novey is professor as well as a fiction and poetry writer, and her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine, and The Paris Review. Ways to Disappear is currently a finalist for the LA Ties Book Prize for First Fiction. Ways to Disappear is a fiction novel that plays with formatting and attests to Novey’s poetry work in a powerful way. This book is anything but a run-of-the-mill novel, and how can anything be that begins with “In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of a Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar?”
Famous Brazilian novelist Beatriz Yagoda climbs into an almond tree and disappears, and Idra Novey’s inventive fiction book begins. Beatriz’s devoted English translator, Emma Neufeld, travels thousands upon thousands of miles to find her favorite author, leaving behind her life and her boyfriend in Pittsburg to embark upon a life-changing quest. As Emma attempts to find out more about where Yagoda, whose work she spent years translating, ended up going, she discovers a secret known only to the Beatriz and her family; her $600,000 online poker debt. As she meets the loan shark who tried to hunt down the author’s whereabouts, she is enveloped in a dangerous plot usually reserved for action movie stars. Throughout the book she interacts with Beatriz’s children, Raquel, who is fed up with her mother’s actions, and Marcus, her disarmingly handsome son. These three, in addition to Beatriz’s published, Roberto Rocha, search far and wide for the famous author, questioning what they thought they knew about her long the way.
Some of the most striking things about Novey’s writing are the unconventional formatting changes. It switches from typical fiction formatting to emails in several locations, making it almost epistolary in fashion, and even includes definitions relevant to the story. Later, it switches to snippets of a scene, each line vivid and gripping. In a particularly engaging scene, after an em dash to increase suspense, she writes, simply, “the sickening click/of a trigger.” This poetry-style writing goes on for the next few pages, where these intense snapshots of a fight are highlighted and emphasized. There is even a section where it looks like a play, bolded character names spilling out their dialogue line-by-line. Throughout the book, there is a lack of quotation marks, but never a lack of character.
The gripping plot, in addition to the engaging formatting, does leave some spots in the plot open, but I would not refer to them as plot holes. These windows through the text make it feel like a journal, such as the one Emma keeps in the book, something I feel was very intentional on the part of the author. It is definitely an impressive book, particularly for an author’s first novel. Ways to Disappear may look more poetry than fiction in sections, but it never once loses the main plot. Overall, it is an engaging read with colorful characters in a lively setting, with just enough mystery to keep the plot moving, but not too much to the point where you become lost, just as Beatriz does.
Reviewed By: Juliana Schicho