Title: Vaclav and Lena
Author: Haley Tanner
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: The Dial Press
Source: Library (many thanks to Trish for putting this on my radar)
Vaclav and Lena, both Russian immigrants, are best friends. Lena, with her less-than-stellar home life, spends every evening with Vaclav’s family. One day Lena makes new friends and ignores Vaclav at school. And then, suddenly, Lena is gone entirely from Vaclav’s life, until years later, when they find each other again as teenagers.
It’s only August, but the back of my mind is already starting to compile my top books of 2011 and this one will almost certainly make the list. It is a beautiful (yet sometimes not-so-beautiful) story of friendship and love.
Although it remains third-person narration at all times, the story is told in part from three points of view: Vaclav’s, Lena’s, and Rasia’s (Vaclav’s mother). Each character brings something different to the story. Vaclav is hopeful and certain. Lena is afraid. Rasia is full of motherly concern and might actually have the most heartbreaking role. I wanted to hug them all.
The language is simultaneously simple and complex. I am not going to be able to adequately explain how that can be, but trust me, it is a gorgeous result. I have so many quotes to share with you because I love them all too much to not share. I hope the passages do more than I can to illustrate Tanner’s writing style.
I don’t want to give too much away about the story because I was glad for the opportunity to discover it myself. And please do. This is a book that deserves to be read.
“Even if she knew all the languages in the whole world perfectly, she might not be able to explain to her son the things she was feeling.” p. 65
“Vaclav wants to stay to see the show because he is afraid of the day moving forward anymore, and he knows that soon the day will move into a new time, and the time before, the time he spent sitting alone in the theater, not knowing anything, will be gone, and he will know something. There is no going back once you know something, because from then on, you always know it.” p. 110
“Most people do not really mean their smiles, most of the time. For most people, their smiles are a lie, a trick, or a promise. Vaclav’s smile is just a smile, and he always means it.” p. 124
“Lena, to Vaclav, is an inconceivable concept. Lena is infinity. Lena is the universe expanding. Lena is the deepest part of the ocean, where no light has ever been.” p. 152
“Of course they were with each other the whole time. Even when they weren’t looking, they never had to check. She was always there; he was always there. Outside her bedroom, somewhere in the darkness, like the moon.” p. 217
“He is refusing to believe. He is refusing to understand. He is the silence before a bomb explodes. He is the tick, tick tick, tick before the boom.” p. 261