I first encountered Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear as an entry in a Buzzfeed Books Newsletter, where it was proclaimed one of the Best of Month. Both plot and, yes, I’ll admit it, cover, captivated me—and when I saw it on a “Must Read” shelf during my weekly visit to Barnes & Noble, I was more than happy to abide the booksellers’ orders.
Ways to Disappear is an unconventional story about the disappearance of an even less conventional storyteller. Beatriz Yagoda—a literary celebrity in Brazil known for her strangely beautiful magical realist works—climbs up into an almond tree one balmy evening and seems to vanish without a trace.
When Beatriz’s American translator, neurotic, Pittsburgh-based thirty-something Emma Neufeld, hears news of Beatriz’s disappearance, she immediately flies to Rio to help find her—and encounters Beatriz’s daughter Raquel, a hard-nosed mining magnate with no time for Emma, and her heartthrob son Marcus, who has a little too much time for her. Together, the three of them discover that Beatriz’s problems loomed far greater than simple writer’s block—she was in mountains of debt as a result of a serious online poker obsession gone terribly wrong. Not only that, but a loan shark she used to bail her out the first few times things went south is out to get her and will stop at nothing until he receives what he is owed.
The book is highly readable—so much so that I knocked out the entire thing in the span of two days (during my four subway commutes, no less); the rich descriptions of Rio made it easy to tune out the sounds of the city for those minutes underground.
While I breezed through the book and certainly enjoyed it, there were a couple aspects of the work that had me scratching my head or—at times—rolling my eyes. For one, I enjoyed how Novey interspersed the work with poetry and dictionary definitions of words with pertinence to the story, but some of those poetic passages seemed to drone on a bit, make little sense, and serve no purpose other than to showcase Novey’s skill with the medium. The other aspect of the book I took issue with is something difficult to discuss without revealing a major part of the plot, but suffice it to say I found one of the romances within the book entirely unfeasible; it went from zero to sixty seemingly behind closed doors. The reader is introduced to two characters as friends and, pages later, they all of a sudden cannot live without each other? I don’t buy it. That aside, Novey is a skilled and evocative writer and her debut novel holds its own as one of this spring’s finest.