In a crumbling park in the crumbling back end of Copacabana, a woman stopped under an almond tree with a suitcase and a cigar. She was a round woman with a knob of gray hair pinned at the nape of her neck. After staring a minute up into the tree, she bit into her cigar, lifted her suitcase onto the lowest branch, and climbed up after it.”
Idra Novey’s Ways to Disappear begins when a woman tosses her suitcase up a tree, climbs up after it and disappears. She is the legendary Brazilian novelist Beatriz Lozado and her disappearance sets off a media storm. In the States, Emma, her translator is convinced her granular knowledge of the author’s text might help to find her, so she packs her bags and flies to Brazil to the consternation of her dutiful and dull fiancé.
As soon as she arrives, she quickly learns that Beatriz owes a violent, threatening loan shark a lot of money. The loan shark has this idea that the author’s make lots of money in the US, but the truth is anything but. So now Emma not only needs to find Beatriz, but figure out how to pay off the loan shark. She meets with Beatriz’ children, Raquel and Marcus and her editor Rocha.
In the novel, we realize there are really many ways to disappear. Beatriz not only disappears into a tree, but as Emma learns more about the role of the editor in the author’s process, there is another kind of disappearance. For Raquel, who has never read her mother’s books, (Why read her books when she can just talk to her?) there is another painful kind of disappearance. Add kidnapping, hired contract killers, gunfire, extortion and there are a lot of serious threats and dangers.Meanwhile, the tone if often more caper than thriller, with moments of slapstick and moments of poignancy, all of which made it somehow less than it should have been.
I like so many elements, the writing, the humor, the theme, the plot and yet, put together, the book is inexplicably dissatisfying. It is less than the sum of its parts. That is disappointing because I really loved so much about it. My favorite parts are the interstitial definitions of words like between and transcribe, all highly personal and so much fun.
I think Ways to Disappear is a good novel and well worth reading as I suspect Idra Novey will write more and better novels in the future. It is funny, at times downright charming and as fast-paced as you could hope for. There is a disconnect between tone and story that makes it just a bit off, but I expect her future books will have more congruence and it is worthwhile to get to know a good writer from her very first book.