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MIDAFTERNOON IN A MOVIE THEATER in the Mall of America. Glary lights before the show make everything seem stark and unfinished to Kate Frazey, a bony aerobics instructor relieving herself of her shocking-pink ski jacket, bunching it on the folded-up seat beside her, and sitting in row three, seat nine, seeing herself as she does so as if from a crane shot among these other filmgoers filtering in and settling down around her. Kate, blond hair so dark it is almost the color of high-fiber breakfast cereal, is Franz Kafka's great-great granddaughter, although she carries no awareness of this within her. She doesn't know her great-great grandfather once had an affair with another bony woman, Grete Bloch, friend of Felice Bauer, to whom Kafka was briefly engaged. Kate doesn't know Grete had a son about whom Kafka never learned, nor that his son was supposed to have died while a child, but was adopted by a Jewish businessman and his wife, and brought to New York in the thirties. Whenever Kate dreams, it is about the plots of Kafka's work, which she has never read because she believes there are already too many stories in the world. Kate dreams that two strangers in top hats and frock coats are always knocking at her door, wanting in. That she is a ninety-pound weight-loss artist dissolving in a cage full of hay in the town square in Prague. That she is a muscular hare darting through a wet field at night and that, no matter how fast she runs, no matter which direction she chooses, the beautiful hounds sleeping within the castle miles away will awaken the next day and chase her down. This is why Kate doesn't sleep unless she has to. This is why she hasn't slept for two nights, why she leans forward now, elbows on knees, concentrating very hard on keeping her glistery brown eyes wide open.