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The Scent of Pine

The Scent of Pine

A Novel

  • reading group guide
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Throughout her acclaimed, award-winning career, novelist Lara Vapnyar has consistently impressed critics with her striking honesty, empathy, and humor—yet never before have Vapnyar’s talents been as perfectly matched or shone as brightly as in her captivating latest novel, The Scent of Pine.

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.

A stirring, sexy, and breathtaking novel with an unforgettable twist, The Scent of Pine is both a poignant love story and a provocative tale of loneliness, longing, youthful romanticism, and the fickle nature of desire.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 192 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781476712628 | 
  • January 2014
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Read an Excerpt

The Scent of Pine ONE
It was never quiet in the woods at night. There would be a creepy rustle in the grass, or a branch would snap here or there, and that unceasing choir of cicadas. The smell was creepy too. It ought to have been some kind of romantic smell, something like pine sap heated by the sun during the day. There were plenty of pines, and it was a summer with a lot of warm, bright days, so couldn’t it have smelled nice at night? But it didn’t. The smell was moldy and damp and a little putrid. In daytime they could detect distinct undertones of... see more

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Scent of Pine includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Though only thirty-eight, Lena finds herself in the grips of a midlife crisis. 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 middle-aged 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. At a time when Russia itself was in turmoil, the once-placid world of the camp was equally unsettled, with unexplained disappearances and mysterious goings-on among the staff; Lena and her friend Inka were haunted by what they witnessed, or failed to witness, and by the fallout from those youthful relationships. As Lena opens up to Ben about secrets she has long kept hidden, they see more

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