“A compelling tale of cultural displacement and yearning” (The Boston Globe), from award-winning author Lara Vapnyar: a “sly and seductive” (The New York Times Book Review) new novel about sexual awakening and the relentless search for love.
Though only thirty-eight, Lena finds herself in the grips of a midlife crisis. She feels lost in her adoptive country, her career is at a dead end, and her marriage has spiraled into apathy and distrust—it seems impossible she will ever find happiness again. But then she strikes up a precarious friendship with Ben, a failed artist turned reluctant academic, who is just as lost as she is.
They soon surprise themselves by embarking on an impulsive weekend adventure, uncharacteristically leaving their responsibilities behind. On the way to Ben’s remote cabin in Maine, Lena begins to talk, 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. As Lena opens up to Ben about secrets she has long kept hidden, they begin to discover together not only the striking truths buried in her puzzling past, but also more immediate, passionate ones about the urgency of this short, stolen time they have together.
“Enchanting…vivid and rich” (The New York Times), filled with Lara Vapnyar’s characteristic empathy, deadpan humor, and striking honesty, The Scent of Pine weaves themes of ambition, loneliness, longing, and the fickle nature of desire into a “book of elegant writing and propulsive storytelling” (Chicago Tribune).
Vapnyar (Memoirs of a Muse) delivers an awkward mix of angst and absurdity in her sophomore novel. Lena, a morose adjunct professor of film studies, catches a train out of N.Y.C.'s Penn Station for Saratoga Springs, N.Y., where she is scheduled to be a substitute speaker at an academic conference. Her husband, Vadim, and their children are spending the weekend visiting his parents. During the trip, Lena runs into an old friend, Inka, whom she knew in Russia, and who immigrated from there years before. The chance encounter brings back memories of time spent together as counselors at a camp in the Soviet Union during one haunting summer in the 1980s. At the conference, she meets and is drawn to Ben, a professor of graphic novels, and the two of them decide to travel home together. The rather bland pair begins a desultory affair, filling their travel time with Lena's stories of the camp and comparisons of their past affairs and the disappointments of their present relationships. Vapnyar's spare prose never brings Ben and Lena to life, but Lena's reminiscences vividly render the anxieties of adolescence amid the waning days of the Soviet Union.