|Isn't the Italian cover the greatest?|
Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an English-as-a-second-language class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner’s wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.
One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out.
At first, I had a hard time trying to get into this book. The writing seems choppy and awkward, and everything is unbelievable. It seems to be pure saccharine.
But I continued reading and soon reached a turning point - The Long and Boring Tale. And while the story has nothing to do with what I thought it had (magic and circuses, and maybe magical realism) and I needed some time to wrap my head around it, it is still a good story. It is darker than I had anticipated, too, what with sexual abuse, prostitution, female slave trading and adoption. The plot has some inconsistencies, like how on earth not a single social assistant went to Ekaterina's house in four years. And I still don't like that kind of star-crossed lovers being in love from age 9 without ever meeting again until they are young adults, but that is a personal pet peeve -more a personal inability to suspend disbelief in certain situations- and not a fault of the book. The characters are part cliché and part unique, so I'm still ambivalent about them, althought it is undeniable that they are unforgettable.
Haley Tanner shows wonderful writing skills throughout the book. I specially liked Lena's inner monologue, when she's looking at that spot in the school bathroom. In fact, now that I've finished the book, I suspect the choppy writing of the beginning was done on purpose, to reflect the struggles of ESL learners when they try to communicate in English. Trust me, I can relate.
Verdict: I'll keep my eyes peeled for future Haley Tanner's books.
3/5 - liked it.