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Review: The Smell of Other People's Houses

The Smell of Other People's Houses - Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

I received a copy from Netgalley when my wish request was granted. I also purchased a finished paperback because I love the UK cover.

 

This was a really interesting book. The paperback has a map in the front of the area in Alaska where the book is set, and it was a little confusing, there were several towns, a river and I could also see a nunnery on the map as well. It was like – how does all this tie together? The plot itself is not a new one, there are four main characters, each chapter is told from a different character’s view point. It tells of how the three main female characters know each other and the others in their small town, and the outsider who comes in.

 

Ruth is madly in love with a boy and keeps sneaking out to see him, Dora has a horribly abusive father and escapes to live with her friend Dumpling, Alyce is a fantastic ballerina but doesn’t want to leave her parents, she works with her dad and her uncle on their fishing boat. Hank and his younger brothers are running away from something.

 

What makes this book unique is it’s setting – it’ Alaska in the 1970s and it’s so different it was almost impossible to picture living this way, (even with a map of the areas). The writing and the narrative are what makes the novel unputdownable. It does deal with a few disturbing issues – Dora’s escape from her horrible father and her annoying, passive enabler mother doesn’t help at all. There is a rather violent scene at the beginning of Ruth’s helping her dad kill and skin a deer and her mother dances in the blood, while it may be a shock to the reader, it seems like the most normal thing in the world for Ruth as a small child. Then her dad dies, her mother loses her mind and is shipped off to an institution and Ruth’s nasty overbearing overly religious grandma comes to look after Ruth and her sister. Alyce’s story I found a little boring – she has the potential to be a really good ballerina, with the option to audition for some big show, but if she gets it – it will mean having to leave the town and her family. There’s a lot about how the fishing side of things work with Alyce’s story. And then Hank and his younger brothers Sam and Jack are running away from something. Though I can’t remember if it was ever really explained what. I didn’t really care much for Hank or his storylines.

 

The novel deals with teen pregnancy as well and has some surprising results as how it brings the girl and the family involved together. It plots along quite well. And at some point all these story lines are supposed to interact. And eventually they do, they were quite a few emotional bits towards the end and some “ah, so that’s how” moments as the story lines connect.

 

Beautifully written, fascinating setting and interesting characters (even if there were one or two story lines I found a little dull). Definitely worth a read for something a little different.

 

Thank you Netgalley and Faber and Faber LTD for granting my wish request.