The stepmother’s tale: Take What You Need, by Idra Novey, reviewed

All writers studying their craft should be encouraged to try translation, thinks Idra Novey, the Pennsylvania-born novelist, poet and, si, translator. Working in another language confers the freedom to slip out of their own voices, developing their own tone in the process, she told one interviewer. On the strength of Novey’s third novel, Take What You Need, an adept tale about an estranged stepmother and daughter set in a fictional former steel town in Appalachia, all writers should heed her advice. In spare, affecting prose, she moves effortlessly between her two first-person narrators: sixty something Jean, and Leah, who was ten when Jean walked out on Leah’s dad, leaving a

Pity the poor stepmother — the most reviled character in folk literature

Fairy stories were not originally aimed at children, and we do not know what the first audience responses were; but as humans do not change in certain essentials it seems likely that reactions centuries ago were similar to reactions now — when it is adults who often find many of them gruesome and unsuitable for those of single-figure age. Wicked stepmothers plot torment and murder; small children are banished alone to forests; wolves dress up in grandmotherly bonnets and shawls to deceive — and eventually to kill and eat — rosy-cheeked little girls; beautiful princesses are locked in high towers or tricked into taking poison to fall asleep for 100