I was first attracted to this book because I was interested in how the first perspective was going to be handled by the author. This book is written in the first person, from the perspective of four different characters. I write from multiple first person perspective, so I very much came to the book as a writer interested in the structure and writing methods of another writer.
I very much ended up as a reader by the end, because the book is fabulous. I will admit that there isn’t very much difference in the ‘voice’ of the different characters in terms of how they say things, but you have no trouble in figuring out which character it is because Hitchcock has sequenced the chapters so that it changes each chapter using the same order for changes throughout the book.
It does mean that parts of the story do get a bit lost, and sometimes the chronological sequence is a bit adrift, but that really doesn’t matter as the story she is telling is wonderful.
It is set in 1970s Alaska, a decade or so after statehood, from the perspective of four teenagers who are all trying to find their place in the world.
Ruth finds herself pregnant after living for a decade with her Gran following the death of her beloved father and the breakdown of her mother’s mental health.
Dora is dealing with the nightmares of having abusive and neglectful parents, which means the luck she has had in being taken in by a loving family now is tarnished by her negative outlook.
Alyce dreams of being a dancer, but is so fearful of disappointing her father, who she helps on his fishing boat over the summer, it means she might miss out on getting a dance scholarship because she can’t attend the audition.
And Hank has run away from home, with his two younger brothers. When one of them disappears, and is believed to have died, he is even more lost than he had been before.
Each of these stories gets slowly interwoven together beautifully, as these four young people begin to learn about the consequences of their actions, but also having to learn to accept the consequences of other people’s actions.
The idea behind the title, ‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ comes from their acknowledgement that the houses of others and the lives of others seem different from their own and more appealing than their own as they slowly come to find themselves and their place in the world.
I loved the idea of that coming from a sensory reaction that is so commonplace in real life, but not so much in prose. There are some beautiful passages building up the environment these characters are it, and you really get a very good sense of their reactions to their sensory perception. I felt it could have had more emphasis on the world building of Alaska, as a whole, but the smaller settings are built up brilliantly.
The book is great, and I highly recommend it as you can connect to the characters easily, and you want to know how things turn out for them, because they feel so genuine.