At the heart of Idra Novey’s poetic second novel, Those Who Knew, is an inherently political story that reveals the nature of toxic masculinity and its effects on the world. While sussing out the manifold fears that drive men’s often destructive pursuit of power, Novey explores the strength of women—which is so often rejected and abused in that pursuit—and troubles over silence in the face of abuse.
A college professor living in an unnamed island nation, Lena is uneasy with her family’s wealth in the aftermath of the country’s former dictatorial regime. Her friend, Olga, who runs a bookstore doubling as a weed shop, is an older survivor of the Terrible Years, when she and her lover were imprisoned and abused. As news breaks of the death of a young woman named Maria P., Lena grows suspicious of the involvement of a rising senator, Victor, with whom she’d been romantically involved in their collegiate years. With nothing to go on but the mysteriously materializing articles of clothing that she is sure belonged to Maria, Lena begins to question her own silence in the years since Victor nearly took Lena’s life in an enraged outburst.
Throughout this meditation on the role of silence, the story weaves together Olga’s daily bookshop log, news reports and interviews, ongoing scenes from Victor’s brother’s autobiographical stage plays and multiple points of view to present a world as richly nuanced as it is lacking in specifics of place and time.
With this novel, Novey provides a depiction of true strength through the community of survivors—those who have withstood tragedies enacted against them by powerful people who ultimately feared their own powerlessness.