Idra Novey launched her debut novel Ways to Disappear at Housing Works. She spoke with writer and critic Nell Freudenberger. Novey, who has published poetry, has also worked as a translator including a novel by Clarice Lispector. Ways to Disappear follows the story of a translator searching for her author who has recently disappeared.
“I’m a restless person,” Novey says, explaining that she loves jumping between countries as well as genres. Traveling is somewhat more difficult, she says, as she approaches her mid-30s.
“I have always loved ex-pat novels,” she adds.
She explains that she sees Americans aboard and how they behave on far away places reveals as much about them as people as how they behave at home.
Novey says that when she started writing the novel, she just added in everything she liked. Once she added everything, she turned on the heat.
“I threw everything in this book,” she says, including all of her theories about translation.
While she was growing up, Novey had lots of exchange students living with her. These social relationships influenced her too.
She also says she is fascinated by the idea of foreignness. In America, immigrants eventually will be considered Americans. However, in Latin America, foreign-born remain foreign. Novey says she was curious about what it meant to be from a place even though nobody else saw you as from that place.
The novel was written much like prose-poems, Novey explains. She deleted the sections that didn’t work, ultimately writing three sections for every one that she kept in the book. She says anything subversive she kept in.
Novey holds an MFA in poetry. The education system in the United States is very formalized, she says, and so she primarily wrote poetry because she felt like that was what she was trained in. Eventually she decided it was time to write a novel, so she sat down and figured out how to do that as well.
In fiction, she says, you can throw in what you want and then delete it. Also she adds, if there is no pleasure for the writer, there will not be any pleasure for the reader. When you are willing to delete, you can get to something.
The challenge to the novel was knowing when to let it go. She was terrified she would want to change something in the final copy.
When it comes to translating her novel into other languages, she probably will not translate the book into Spanish or Portuguese, the two languages she has translated into English. She says it is easier to translate into a native language than out of it. She might consult with the translator, but helping a translator, she says, is a lot like being a helicopter parent.