Vaclav and Lena/Haley Tanner: The best longest first sentence ever

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Last evening, following a full afternoon of extraordinary conversations with my students, I missed the 5:38 PM train by, well—let's just say I got there right as the doors were closing.

All, however, was not lost, for there's always Faber books at 30th Street Station—always the chance to acquire something new.

I had thirty minutes. I bought, at last, Kevin Powers' The Yellow Birds. It's the book of the year here in Philadelphia, and it's about time that I get with the program. I'll read it. Soon.

But I also bought a copy of Vaclav and Lena, a debut novel by Haley Tanner. It is one of those books I'd always been meaning to buy, then forgot I'd wanted to buy, then had forgotten altogether as I pursued the next new many things. If I hadn't missed the train, I'd have not met these two immigrant Brooklyn children who want, when we first meet them, to be the best magicians alive.

I'm not finished reading yet, so I can't deliver a full report. I can, however, give you this fragment of the first single wow opening sentence, which I share in honor of one of my students who has captivated us with her voice this year, and who could, I have not a single doubt, cast an instant spell like this one:

"Here I practice, and you practice. Ahem. AH-em. I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the sixth of May, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadan and all pagan festivals, born in a land far, far, far, far, far, far, far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion (Russia!), born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn (which is a borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America!), where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-piece-suit, and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo, Vaclav the Magnificent, who shall, without a doubt, be ask to perform his mighty feats of enchantment for dukes and presidents and czars and ayatollahs, uniting them all in awestruck and dumbstruck, and.....
You get the point? The books we pay attention to are the ones that leap from the page. Vaclav and Lena leaps from mile-long sentence number one.

Voice. Some people have it.

You know who I'm talking about.


Victoria Marie Lees said...

You're correct, Beth, as you usually are. This sentence sets up a unique story which the reader becomes immersed in and wants to see what happens next. Thanks for sharing. ~Victoria Marie Lees

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