Haley Tanner, Vaclav and Lena
A debut that expresses just how much of ourselves we owe to others
Haley Tanner’s debut novel, Vaclav and Lena, is dedicated to her late husband, whom she met two months after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In her tale of heart-wrenching romance and undue grief, Tanner gives us the story of two eponymously-named Russian immigrants who meet as young children in an ESL class at their Brooklyn elementary school. Vaclav and Lena become fast friends, practicing magic routines and making eternal promises. Vaclav comes from a flawed but intact family, while Lena lives with her neglectful, prostituting aunt. They really do need each other, and their budding romance is symbiotic.
When the narrative skips forward almost a decade, the two are no longer close, though they think about each other often, in the way that friends who have formed each other are apt to do. A single phone call reunites them and finally reveals to Vaclav the sinister secrets of Lena’s life. Knit back together after so many years apart, the two young lovers forge an amorous bond that serves as the ultimate salvation.
Tanner is careful to attenuate the possibly twee gimmick of childhood romance, and her novel is not only a eulogy to her husband but also an assertion of just how much of ourselves we owe to others.