Although I finished Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear today, I lost interest about half way through. After checking reviews on NPR and the New York Times, I changed my approach. At page 89, I stopped, went to the back of the book and starting reading it backwards – very satisfying.
Because Novey’s chapters are so short, sometimes only a paragraph, this approach may not have worked in any other book.
Novey, a poet and translator of books from Spanish and Portuguese into English, focuses her debut novel around a popular Brazilian writer, Beatriz Pagoda, and her American translator, Emma. Beatriz climbs an almond tree in Copacabana with only her suitcase and her cigar and promptly disappears; Emma decides to leave her boyfriend in Pittsburgh to find the author in Brazil.
The story has fits and starts as Emma meets the author’s adult children, falls in love with Marcus, her son, and discovers Beatriz is a secret internet poker player with a massive debt. The local loan sharks are determined to recover their cash, and the search for Beatriz becomes a race among her publisher, looking for her next book; the cartel, looking for their money; and Emma, who uses clues from Beatriz’s novels to try to find her.
The action includes kidnapping, torture, and death, but also romance and adventure, and offers some reflections on how writers affect their readers. In the end, Emma finds her true place, and the writer may or may not live on in her words. And yes, she is found.
The book was not a translation but it often read like one that had been originally written in another language, a little choppy and disconnected, but with enough intrigue and adventure for a good script. If you are thinking Ways to Disappear is another version of Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, think again –