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

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Memoirs of a Muse

A Novel

By Lara Vapnyar

Memoirs of a Muse
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2006,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2007,
    224 pages.

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"Nice and cool," she commented.

The tears gushed out of my eyes, while my whole body shook with laughter. "You’re cute like that, Ba," I said. "You’re funny."

ChaptNr Two Iwasn’t home when my grandmother died. I had gone to my friend Lida’s house in the country for two weeks, and the date of my return coincided with the date of the funeral. I didn’t even have to cut short my vacation. Convenient timing, Lida’s mother commented when my mother called.

My mother told me the news on the phone. Your grandmother died. It didn’t sound shocking. I knew that it would happen. I had gotten used to the thought. I didn’t think it would change anything.

During the five years of her illness, my grandmother’s condition was slowly slipping. And the two last years she’d spent in a state not much different from a coma. The sane, medium-crazy, and crazy days were long gone. There were no more stories, no more frightening, wet eyes, no more wandering with a pillow. Even the chair became useless after a while. The potty had been replaced with a bedpan, the cup with a baby bottle, the pills with a syringe. My chores had become so mechanical that I barely noticed them. On coming home from school, I had to change a sheet, give my grandmother a drink, then give her the bedpan and apply ointment to her bedsores. I always wondered why the skin on her back was so soft. Everything else crumpled like used wrapping paper, but the skin on her back stayed perfectly smooth and tender, just like my own, even more delicate than my own. And it seemed that the skin on her back was the only part of her that reacted to the outside world. It usually became irritated and broke into annoying, wet sores, but at least it was something. The rest of her didn’t react at all. She didn’t try to communicate. Her eyes were open, but she never looked at me. I wasn’t sure if she recognized me. I didn’t feel that there was another living person in the house when I sat in my room doing my homework or reading a book. I felt that I was left alone or with a strange big doll that required changing and feeding and sometimes made tiny, quiet whimpers that didn’t mean anything.

My reaction upon hearing my mother’s announcement was, "Oh, so it did happen after all."

Just as I had expected, I didn’t find any drastic changes when I came home from my vacation. The apartment had always seemed a little different at the end of a summer: the ceiling seemed lower or higher than I’d remembered, the rooms emptier or more cluttered, the bed softer, the armchair firmer. I couldn’t tell whether the differences were real or imaginary. Now, when I saw on my return that my grandmother’s bed was empty and her table/toilet chair was covered with a piece of cloth, I had to struggle to remember if they had really looked different before I left. I caught myself being disturbed by the fact that death wasn’t anything extravagant. She had just disappeared. She used to be there, and then she wasn’t there anymore. Not that she was anywhere else. She wasn’t even buried in the ground. She’d been cremated, turned into nothing.

My uncle sat by the phone with his plump notebook, calling everybody he knew, saying a formal, "My mother has ended." Ended. As if she were a book or a movie.

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.

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