Lara Vapnyar’s The Scent of Pine is an indulgent novel, with the past and present intermingling in beautiful and haunting ways; lust and love and desire bringing insecurities and reality into the light. And I love that it primarily takes place in a cabin in the woods in Maine. There’s something enchanting and deep about the Maine woods that novelists and writers and general people find alluring; I won’t deny it, the woods of The Pine Tree State are quite magical. Anyway, moving on to the book.
Lena and Ben meet at an academic conference and after spending a night together, Lena decides to accompany Ben on an overnight trip to his cabin in Maine. On the drive there from Saratoga Springs, and then back to their ultimate departure in Boston on the other end of the trip, we learn about secrets they’ve kept, personal issues they’ve stifled, and how giving in to desire can offer a messy, short-term solution to people feeling lost.
I enjoyed the narrative of The Scent of Pine, and how believable the course of events seemed, thanks to Lara Vapnyar’s writing style. The chances of two people meeting at a conference with hundreds of people, and then both of them traveling across state lines together to spend the night willingly in a cabin in the woods of Maine, sounds more like the beginning of a Stephen King novel than a whirlwind, complicated romance story, but Lara Vapnyar made it seem deliciously believable.
We travel back to Lena’s days as a counselor at a summer camp in Russia as she tells Ben about the men – soldiers – she dated during those summers who mysteriously disappeared. Ben tells Lena about the history of the cabin and his father, and intermittently, they talk about their significant others and in Lena’s case, children. Desire, fulfillment, and intimacy meld the past with the present and the future is what we catch a glimpse of at the end when Lara Vapnyar slams on the brakes of the pleasant and indulgent train ride and takes our breath away for a few seconds, before we breathe a sigh of relief or content dissatisfaction – that’s your call.
What was so difficult about admitting that you weren’t happy? Why did people think they needed to come up with all these complicated explanations, excuses, justifications? Or perhaps they just didn’t want to admit it to themselves?
I didn’t want to put this book down, and I hope you have the same experience. The innocence and maturity of the story work together to describe the intricacies of life, love, and what it means to be human, and how seclusion can both make the world seem very small and quite large at the same time.
Lena was overcome with the strange feeling that she experienced only a couple of times after that. She didn’t know what to call it. Anticipation of happiness? No, it had to be stronger than that. Certainty of happiness. Inevitability of happiness.