Sunday, July 24, 2016

bookshelf - The Smell of Other People's Houses

I will freely admit I was taken in by the title of this book.  I grew up associating the smell of people with their houses - stale cooking fat, concentrated pine-scented solvent, the stale dust of closed-in homes, the faint goldenrod of open windows.

The title may have pulled me in, but it's the characters that kept me there.  To borrow a sentiment from  Miss Buncle's Book, these characters are 'real live people.'  They are deftly drawn, open and honest in all their value and flaws.  There's not a gross caricature in the lot, no wicked villain or heavenly angel, yet each character is compelling.  There's no major external conflict, either, yet the story never crosses the fine line between meandering reflection of life into boredom.

Set in Alaska in 1970, with a quick flashback to the statehood conflict a decade before (which could be the dystopian external conflict that started it all) the main conflicts are the common everyday anger, violence, and despair that afflict people everywhere.

There's love, loss, disappointment, betrayal, hope, fear, and despair; rage, anguish, and misdirected self-sacrifice; inability, or unwillingness to communicate; greed, poverty, and hopelessness.  Lessons are spoken, unspoken, or simply illustrated with the smooth hand of a narrator telling a tale with no judgment.  The reader is left with a journey of broken lives stitched together with a waxed thread of coincidence, tenacity, and good luck, even if they don't see themselves as lucky at the time.

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