Memoirs of a Muse

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To her family's surprise and delight, Tanya quickly finds a successful older novelist at a reading at an Upper West Side bookstore. Tanya spends the next three years living with Mark in his full-service Upper West Side apartment. But because she is too self-conscious to ever speak to any of his friends, and--for the majority of their relationship--can't read enough English to get through one page of Mark's novels, Tanya's life in Mark's apartment is miserable.

She is happy only on the "Bard days" when Mark teaches upstate and when she can unselfconsciously sample the selection of gourmet condiments in his cabinets, happily mimicking the reactions of people in commercials tasting delicious foods.


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Mark has a number of humorous quirks--most amusing is the fact that he is, for most of the relationship, "between books," and doesn't write a word. But, even if Tanya and Mark's romance is slow and unsatisfying, the experience of reading about it should not be. Tanya's insecurities and the degree to which she is subservient to Mark are at times too much to take. He is an overly unlikable character, and Tanya doesn't begin to enact all the revenge fantasies I had while reading about their pleasureless sex the Bard days are also the only days when Tanya gets off--alone and all the time she wasted waiting hand-and-foot on this bastard.

When it comes to Mark and Tanya's relationship, the flaws in the writing are frequently redeemed by Vapnyar's wit. It is hilarious to see some of the ways Mark exoticizes Tanya just as she romanticizes his role as a writer. For foreplay, he makes her tell him stories about her days as a Russian schoolgirl.

From Russia With Love

She makes up a classroom sexual encounter in which a portrait of Lenin watched her from the wall. Mark moans, "'What about now? Do you think Lenin is watching you now? Like many smart twenty-something women, Tanya realizes that being the lover of a "brilliant" older man can be more self-destructive than it is empowering. Despite at least one cheesy twist at the end, Tanya is such a lovable character that her ultimate happiness is truly satisfying.

Memoirs is not driven by an evocation of setting or by a quality of the language, and it often feels like loosely assembled series of humorous vignettes. In many ways, Memoirs feels, in fact, like many contemporary memoirs, which are generally episodic and lacking in attention to language.

There is a lot of meandering and little rising action, and the imagined scenes that take place between Dostoevsky and Polina feel strained and are, for the most part, not engaging. Vapnyar's funniness is usually able to distract us from the novel's structural shortcomings-her wit is what ultimately carries the book.

The humor is on par with that of David Sedaris or Vowell and she provides a wry and candid portrayal of Tanya's psyche and literary sexual fantasies. She lives on Staten Island and is pursuing a Ph.

Full of generous intelligence. A captivating literary fairy tale gone awry. Join Reader Rewards and earn your way to a free book!

Summary of The Memoirs of a Swine in the Land of Kultur, or, How it Felt to be a Prisoner of War

Join Reader Rewards and earn points when you purchase this book from your favorite retailer. Read An Excerpt. Paperback —. Add to Cart. About Memoirs of a Muse Tanya is a typical teenager living with her bookish professor mother in a cramped Soviet apartment. Also in Vintage International.

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