Novels written to fit into certain cultural moments often end up out of date, sometimes even in bookshops. But there are novels that come by chance into relevance and feel immediate and timeless. Idra Novey's second novel, "Those Who Know It," is one such book. On the day of the midterm elections and soon thereafter, our recent Supreme Court justice was accused of attacking several women – and was confirmed anyway – the obsession of the novel of silence, its condemnation of false liberalism and the fine line between complicity and complicity trauma feels incredibly forward-looking.
The book begins with death. It's the early 2000s, a week after Maria P., a young activist and student, was killed by a passing bus on an unnamed island – cultural evidence suggests that it's Cuba or a version of it. Lena, a professor on the island, has a sweater with a mysterious origin, reminiscent of the figure of Maria P. in her obituary. In a panic, she hurries to tell her friend Olga that Maria P. is trying to communicate from the afterlife: "Maria has to be in some kind of station for murder victims and has found out what I can get away with Victor," says Lena Olga. Olga, a former exiled revolutionary who watched as members of the island's now-defeated dictatorship tortured her lover, rolled Lena with a thick joint to calm her nerves.
Victor is the island's most popular young senator, and Lena was in touch with him 10 years earlier before the regime was overthrown. Her relationship ended when he nearly strangled her to death, reminiscent of recent statements about suspected male violence: "When he pushed her against the wall and grabbed her by the neck, she thought he was going to panic for only a second , But then he had slapped his palm over his nose. "Charismatic championing the right liberal ideals – free tutoring, income equality – Victor is a political animal, and Lena suspects that he was obviously inadvertently involved with Maria P.'s death. But she does not say anything because who would you believe? And besides, she has no proof except mysterious garments and the traumatic memories that keep cropping up as Victor's rise to power in one newspaper article after another is described.
The novel dissolves over several years as Lena becomes pregnant, leaves the island and then returns, and while her story is central, Victor; his wife Cristina; his brother Freddy; Olga; and a Nordic (pronounced: American) named Oscar, all have their own sections. In short, poetic chapters, Novey manages to capture the characteristics of these characters: Victor's simple cruelty and his complex desire for power; Cristina's privileged education and lack of curiosity frustrates Freddy's frustrated talent as he writes an experimental piece about Victor that he can not bring to light out of unruly loyalty. Olga is frozen because she refuses to change anything about her bookstore for a long time. and Oscar's naive, well-meaning but awkward nature. Although the book is slim, we know these characters and their wishes to the very end.
Even more central than Lena's story is perhaps the focus of the book on power and silence, as the former is achieved by securing the latter. Olga's silence is the result of witnessing and experiencing terrible acts of violence that had exiled her, but she followed her there – once on a bus she thought she had seen the man who had tortured her lover and followed him, therefore, " because the trauma has caused damage to Kite of the Mind, and it was not clear what kind of wind it could take. "Lena's silence is assured, Victor suggests, because the longer she stays muted, the more power Victor gains and the less Chance takes her seriously, though Freddy suspects that his brother is far less charming than he appears in public, but as a gay man and penniless artist he is not quite sure of his ability to act – his and Victor's uncle also became killed by the regime, and her father urged her to a fraternal connection.
Cristina's silence begins with a lack of knowledge appropriate to the privileged, which becomes a necessary precautionary measure as she tries to protect her son from his father's growing scandal. And Oscar, the Northerners, though he knew nothing about Victor, knew almost nothing about the island and its past, and his ignorance became the break point of his and Lena's burgeoning relationship. A catastrophe in his homeland occurs immediately after their meeting – strongly hinted at 9/11 – and in his shocked state while watching the news, he mumbles: "It's incomprehensible," to which Lena replies, with a brutal regime grew up, "Is it anyway?"
Novey – poet and translator and writer – is a skilled wordsmith with poetic descriptions that were never overused: "As soon as the sun came up," she writes of the island, "the port town looked less like a soiled and forgotten pile of laundry. "Those who knew" is not only an important book about silence and its consequences, but also a pure pleasure in reading.
Ilana Masadis author and publisher in New York.
THE, YOU KNOW
From Idra Novey
Vikings. 256 p. 26 $.