Excerpt from Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Memoirs of a Muse

A Novel

By Lara Vapnyar

Memoirs of a Muse
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2006,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2007,
    224 pages.

    Publication Information

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse Review Team

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

"I am going to tie you up, Ba. If you want to have a haircut, I’ll have to tie you up." She didn’t resist while I circled around her with the shawl, weaving it between the chair back’s rails and under her breasts, then tied it in a big knot between her shoulder blades. She sat as still as she could, nodding eagerly, following my hands with restless, glistening eyes.

"Better? Isn’t it?" I asked my prisoner and took the scissors off the nightstand.

The first snap was a signal for her to continue the story.

"Fedor Mikhailovich would take all the money and gamble it away, and then he would come back for more—but there wasn’t any—and pawn all of the good things only to gamble the money away. He gambled away her ring, her earrings, her shawl, and once even her shoes and her dress, so she couldn’t even go shopping."

"What was the point in going shopping if he’d already gambled away all the money?"

"Well, maybe she hoped to ask a nice salesman for credit, or just wanted to window-shop. . . . And when he came back, instead of apologizing he yelled at her for not fixing his supper on time!"

"Did she yell back at him?"

"Never! She apologized for not fixing supper. You see, she was a very good wife."

"All right, now shut your eyes."

I let her long bangs fall down on her forehead and snapped the scissors there, careful not to scratch the skin. It was easier to look at her when her eyes were closed. She looked relaxed, smoother, more alive, almost normal, until one sly, glistening eye opened under my snapping hand.

"Geniuses are a crazy lot. They’re crazy like hell! You never know how to please them. You think that you do. You keep track of the things that please them. But they are fickle, they change their likings on a whim. You serve them tea with sugar and cream—their favorite, and you had just gone out specially to buy that cream—and they yell that they wanted coffee with lemon. You want to throw that tea into their red, ugly mugs and then break the cup against their head, but you don’t do it. You apologize. And then when they come home drunk and in soiled pants—yes, they do that, they soil their pants—you don’t throw them out! You take them in, you undress them, you scrape the shit off them, and put them to bed. And after that you go to your communal bathroom to wash their pants. And it’s not an easy thing, I tell you, to wash shitty pants in a communal bathroom, with all the neighbors watching and yelling at you because of the stench! But you do it for them all the same."

"Do it for whom, Ba? Who soils their pants?"

Both eyes open at me like nimble animals lurking between the locks of hair, waiting to burn me with their sparks.

"That’s them, who do it! Them! Geniuses!"

So, okay, the geniuses are bad, I thought as I cut the rest of my grandmother’s hair. She closed her eyes, hung her head down, and sat silently without moving—very convenient for chopping the hair on her crown. She must have been out of breath after her tirade.

So, Dostoevsky, a writer with different eyes, was a bad man. Geniuses are bad, and you have to wash their shit off, and that is probably it. That is what it takes to be a muse. There is not much else to it.

No, I wasn’t a wise child. I didn’t think about that until years later. Many years later.

When I cut my grandmother’s hair, I was too preoccupied with making the layers even. Something had gone wrong in the middle of the process. It could be that my ten-year-old overconfidence let me down at some point. By the end of the session, my grandmother’s hairdo consisted of rows of hair of various lengths encircling her head in various directions. I tried to even the hair’s length but wound up cutting too close to the skin. When my grandmother raised her head and opened her eyes, there was nothing but yellow-white down fluttering on her bare scalp. With her neck thinned by the illness, and her beaky nose, she looked like a baby chick. A sick baby chick. An old and sick baby chick, if that was possible. An old and sick baby chick tied to a chair with a shawl. A large, hard lump rose in my throat, hurting me, making me want to hide, to escape. As if sensing my distress, my grandmother moved her neck from side to side and shook her head.

Excerpted from Memoirs of a Muse by Lara Vapnyar Copyright © 2006 by Lara Vapnyar. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!
Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  
Sign up, win books!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket
    The Valley of Amazement
    by Amy Tan
    "Mirror, Mirror on the wall
    I am my mother after all!"


    In my pre-retirement days as a professor ...
  • Book Jacket: A Man Called Ove
    A Man Called Ove
    by Fredrik Backman
    Reading A Man Called Ove was like having Christmas arrive early. Set in Sweden, this debut novel is ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Search
    by Geoff Dyer
    All hail the independent publisher! In May 2014, Graywolf Press brought two of long-revered British ...

First Impressions

Members read and review books ahead
of publication. See what they think
in First Impressions!

Books that
expand your
horizons.

Visitors can view a lot of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only

Find out more.

Book Discussions
Book Jacket

Tomlinson Hill
by Chris Tomlinson

Published Jul. 2014

Join the discussion!

Win this book!
Win The Angel of Losses

The Angel of Losses

"Family saga, mystery, and myth intersect in Feldman's debut novel." - Booklist

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

E C H A Silver L

and be entered to win..

Books thatinspire you.Handpicked.

Books you'll stay up all night reading; books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, books that will expand your mind and inspire you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.