Fiction
Fiction

 

An excerpt from Ways to Disappear

by Idra Novey


 

The esteemed literary publisher Roberto Rocha liked to test his steaks to see if the meat was worth what he had paid for it. The test had to do with the density of the smoke once the steaks began to sizzle. With the works of fiction he selected for his press, he tested for density as well, for something tender in the middle yet still heavy enough to blacken the air.


He had not come across such a manuscript in years. Everything that appeared in the stack on his desk bored him within the first forty pages. Even the works he agreed to publish struck him as cheap, dry cuts now, something synthetic in their flavor. He wished someone had warned him that devoting his life and inheritance to a literary press would leave him this overweight and cynical. Of course, if they had, he would have written off that person as an imbecile and a philistine.


Senhor Roberto? His assistant, Flavia, knocked on the door and ducked her head in. The mail came. There’s a letter from your cousin Luisa.


That’s nice, he said, since I don’t have a cousin named Luisa.


Maybe it says Laura Flaks. Or Lourdes? The handwriting is a little odd. Flavia pushed up the thick dark-rimmed glasses all the literary girls wore now and handed him the envelope.


The surname Flaks did ring a bell, though not for anyone in his family. Rocha was fairly certain it was Jewish.


Caro Roberto, the letter began, I hate to ask this, but I hope that given the circumstances, you would be kind enough to help a cousin in a hard spot hide out for a week at the hotel below.


How perfectly bizarre, Rocha said.


And then it came to him: the bubble bath scene in the opening pages of the novel that had put his press on the map. Luisa Flaks with her head back, her long wet hair spread out like a spiderweb against the porcelain of the tub. Sensual, ordinary Luisa reclining in the bath, or not quite ordinary, as she’d had the nerve to resist turning off the faucets, had let the water spill steadily over the edge of the tub and across the tiles and seep into the apartment below, had let the spill go on until her skin had shriveled at the center of her fingertips and her toes and she could no longer feel her backbone against the porcelain. Rocha had been concerned that the scene was too extreme, that the descriptions dragged on too long, but Beatriz had insisted that was the point: to push everything—the amount of water, the details. To take all of it too far.


The novel had been the only book Rocha had ever published that went into a second printing within a month. After her next book won every major award in Brazil, he’d encouraged Beatriz to leave his press for a larger, international house. He hadn’t wanted to hold her back. He’d hoped she might continue to share her drafts with him, and she had. Every one.


In the other desk, he said to Flavia, is my checkbook. Would you bring it here?


 

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Excerpted from the book WAYS TO DISAPPEAR by Idra Novey. Copyright © 2016 by Idra Novey. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company.

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Idra Novey is the author of the debut novel Ways to Disappear, a New York Times Editors’ Choice. Born in western Pennsylvania, she has since lived in Chile, Brazil and New York. Her poetry collection Exit, Civilian was selected for the 2011 National Poetry Series. Her fiction and poetry have been translated into eight languages and she’s written for The New York Times, NPR’s All Things Con­sid­ered, and The Paris ReviewShe’s also translated the work of several prominent Brazilian writers, most recently Clarice Lispector’s novel The Pas­sion Accord­ing to G.H.

 

 

About Ways to Disappear

 

This highly acclaimed debut novel begins with the disappearance of a famous Brazilian novelist and the young translator who turns her life upside down to follow her author's trail. Deep in gambling debt, the celebrated Brazilian writer Beatriz Yagoda is last seen holding a suitcase and a cigar and climbing into an almond tree. She abruptly vanishes. In snowy Pittsburgh, her American translator Emma hears the news and, against the wishes of her boyfriend and Beatriz's two grown children, flies immediately to Brazil. There, in the sticky, sugary heat of Rio, Emma and her author's children conspire to solve the mystery of Yagoda's curious disappearance. Brilliant and compulsively readable, Ways to Disappear is a gloriously inventive novel about the ways we do appear to each other. Both playful and profound, it is as much a mystery as it is a manifesto on the joys of translation. It is a novel, as Dustin Illingworth writes in the LA Times, "that blooms in the spaces between languages, between continents, between selves past and present.”