Thursday, August 11, 2016

Lara Vapnyar

Lara Vapnyar emigrated from Russia to New York in 1994 and began publishing short stories in English in 2002. She lives on Staten Island and is pursuing a Ph.D. in comparative literature at CUNY Graduate Center.

Her new novel is Still Here.

Recently I asked Vapnyar about what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently reread Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, marveling at how modern it felt. It was written more than two hundred years ago! Some books just don’t get old. The novel is enjoyable on every level, but this time I had a special pleasure reading it from the perspective of a writer and a teacher of writing. Since this is one of Austen’s earlier work, it’s easier to see how she was shaping her method. One of her signature tools is to let her most idiotic or obnoxious characters (like Steele sisters or Robert Ferrars) talk forever with little or no reaction from the other characters so that we, readers, find ourselves right there in the scene and this unbearable character is addressing us directly, and we can’t escape his or hers obnoxiousness and start identifying with the main characters in a very powerful way.

Another signature Austen tool is her ability to ground romance in reality without making it less romantic. Here is how she describes the marital bliss of Elinor and Edward: “They had in fact nothing to wish for, but the marriage of Colonel Brandon and Marianne, and rather better pasturage for their cows.” Elinor and Edward are truly happy together, but that doesn’t mean that happiness will magically fix their financial situation. They live in the real world, and in the real world people are concerned with well-being of their cows. And the fact that they care about “better pasturage” doesn’t mean that they are any less in love.

Those cows at the end of Sense and Sensibility would always have a very special place in my heart.
Visit Lara Vapnyar's Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue