‘The Smell of Other People’s Houses’ – Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock

the smell of other people's houses


This debut novel focuses on the stories of four teenagers living in Alaska in the 1970’s. Apparently, it began life as a series of short stories and there is still something of that feel to it.

The novel is short, which left me feeling that parts of the story that I was really interested in knowing¬†more about were somewhat glossed over. They were still interesting, but there just didn’t seem to be enough to make me really feel much of a connection with the characters.

We are given the stories of four quite different characters, their link being the place they live. We have Ruth, a young girl living with her grandmother. After her only sexual experience she ends up pregnant and is shipped off to an abbey to allow the nuns to have her baby adopted. We have Dora, who is living with a friend to escape the abuse she experiences at home. There is also Alyce, a dancer who knows she will have to escape her home-town to fulfil her dreams. Lastly, there is Hank – the older brother who has taken on the responsibility of his younger siblings after their father dies.

The issues touched upon in the novel are many, and potentially harrowing, but they are somewhat superficially raised and this makes it a curious novel to write about. I liked the fact that the stories connected, though some of the links did seem unlikely. I did not like the way in which the world surrounding the teenagers was described. It comes across as bleak and unpleasant, with many shortcomings, yet the only way anybody seems to escape it is by dying. I’m not sure what kind of message that sends, but it really does not make sense to me.

This was a book that I really wanted to like. It wasn’t a bad read, but it just left me feeling a little colder than I was expecting.