‘Katania’ by Lara Vapnyar

Katania by Lara Vapnyar, 2013

The magic trick:

Halting any any illusion of reality and taking a big swing at story technique

Vapnyar does something fairly brazen here. She extends the story beyond the initial premise, so that we don’t just meet Katya and Tania as children, we catch up with them meeting as adults. That’s not the brazen part. The brazen part is the way in which that extension, and that meeting of the adult characters, brings to life the dollhouse they played with as children.

I say it’s brazen because it’s a tact that certainly risks overwhelming the reader with itself. It’s such a step outside of any attempt at realism. It’s the author essentially shouting at the reader “Hey, I want you to remember this is a story and not real life; I’m in control; I can connect the dots in any kind of way I want.”

But remarkably, it works.

And that’s quite a trick on Vapnyar’s part.

The selection:

When I was a child, I had a family of doll people. They lived in a red shoebox painted to look like a house, with a dark-brown roof and yellow awnings. Inside the house, there was a set of plastic toy furniture, plus some random household items: a matchbox television, a mirror crafted from a piece of foil, and a thick rug secretly cut out of my old sweater. I also had a few plastic farm animals—a cow, a pig, a goat, and a very large (larger than the cow) chicken, which lived outside the shoebox.

The family itself consisted of the following individuals:

One pretty little doll, made of soft plastic, with painted-on hair and dress, who, in my games, represented me.

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