Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Scent of Pine by Lara Vapnyar

"Though Lena is only thirty-eight, she finds herself in the grip of a midlife crisis. She feels out of place in her adoptive country, her career has stalled, and her marriage has tumbled into a spiral of apathy and distrust;it seems impossible she will ever find happiness again. But then she meets Ben, a failed artist turned reluctant academic, who is just as lost as she is. They strike up a precarious friendship and soon surprise themselves by embarking on an impulsive weekend adventure.

On the drive to Ben's remote cabin in Maine, Lena begins to open up, for the first time in her life, about the tumultuous summer she spent as a counselor in a Soviet children's camp twenty years earlier, when she was just discovering romance and her own sexuality. At a time when Russia itself was in turmoil, the once-placid world of the camp was growing equally unsettled, with unexplained disappearances and mysterious goings-on among the staff; Lena and her best friend are haunted by what they witnessed, or failed to witness, and by the fallout from those youthful relationships. It was a time of intense emotions, confusion, and passions, and ultimately very little turned out to be exactly as it seemed.

As Lena reveals to Ben secrets she has long kept hidden, the lovers begin to discover together not only the striking truths buried in her past, but also more immediate lessons about the urgency of this short, stolen time they have together..." 

Despite the fact that this book takes place over just a few days, the pacing was very slow but its slow pacing fit the novel.  Lena and Ben's stories came out naturally over time as they began to feel more comfortable with one another.  I found Lena to be the more sympathetic of the two. It's clear from the novel's onset that her husband emotionally abuses her and has quashed her self esteem. It's no surprise that she became interested in the first man to value her in some time. Ben is initially charming but as the novel progresses, I found his issues and relationship struggles hard to empathise with or rationalize.  However the relationship Lena has with her husband and Ben isn't the only complex and intriguing relationship here. As Lena tells Ben stories of her childhood friend Inka. You'll wonder if Inka was the dear  Lena claimed her to be. 

If you're looking for a fluffy novel about a second chance at love, this novel isn't for you.  But if you're looking for a thoughtful novel that examines some of the harsh realities in contemporary relationships then this novel is for you.  The novel's conclusion is open ended and will leave you unsettled and wondering what Ben and Lena's next move will be but I found it refreshing that everything wasn't resolved and tied up with a pretty bow.

Please note that I received an advanced copy of "The Scent of Pine" by Lara Vapnyar via NetGalley from Simon & Schuster in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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