If novels had background music, this one would play It’s A Small World After All.
Confession: I love small-town novels. As a Canadian, most of our novels are about small towns, because that’s namely what we have here. I especially love when small towns are woven together with nature, like in Prairie books. The Smell of Other People’s Houses is very much a small-town book, but instead of the prairies, it occurs in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon. This, of course, means it is my ideal kind of book.
Let’s start of what I liked:
This novel is very much about setting, but it is also about movement. Every character moves around, skipping from one place to the next. No one is static. This gives a sense of the nomadic, of the people who used to live in Alaska and the Yukon, and the people who still do. I love how important tradition was to this book, like fishing and the Native people. I also really liked the form: there are 4 stories that happen simultaneously, and they all twist, overlap, and combine. The fact that all these stories, which happen in all different places, are able to come together as one really emphasizes the “small world” theme, and the feeling of small towns: no one is isolated, and we all are a part of each other’s story. So I really loved the themes, and I really loved the structure.
And now for what I didn’t like:
It’s way too short. The novel clocks in around 230 pages, which is not enough to tell four individual stories. We only get about 50 pages per character, and I feel like by the time you are able to adjust yourself to the character and their life, their story is already wrapping up. The problem with its brevity is that the characters come off very flat. I did not connect to anyone, because by the time I got to know them, they were already different people, changed through their experiences. While the plot was strong, with its interwoven stories, the characters were not, and this is where the novel fails.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses is a decent read, and it’s the kind of book you want to curl up with as winter turns to spring. Just don’t expect it to change your life.
3 fish out of 5.