I was very excited about THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES when I first read the synopsis and the setting- 1970’s Alaska! I also love books with multiple points of view and so I couldn’t wait to dive in once I received my copy.
Mar-Sue Hitchcock writes a beautiful picture of Alaska. Our four main characters are found in Fairbanks, Southeast Alaska, and Canada. Over the course of the story we see a fish camp, a convent, a fishing boat, and a ferry. Even with multiple main characters and multiple locations, Hitchcock weaves together a beautiful story about the meaningful ways people’s lives intersect.
Though beautiful, we also see the difficulty of Alaska living and she doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. She writes about poverty, abusive relationships, teenage pregnancy, and alcoholism in ways that feel real and not overdone. Yes, these characters deal with these topics on a daily basis but these things do not define these characters. They are able to help one another overcome.
I especially loved the character Hank, maybe because I myself am an older sibling. The burden he feels for his younger brothers is juxtaposed beautifully with his overwhelming love for them. Even when they are separated in the midst of very difficult circumstances, Hank is able to keep moving to reunite them. He was kind and gracious while still being tough and guarded, characteristics I was very drawn to. I also really loved Alyce who struggles between pursuing what she really loves and her sense of duty and obligation to her family. All four characters are written so fully, so completely, that their voices and stories jump off the page.
What Left Me Wanting More:
While the world of Alaska is written beautifully and clearly, I found myself confused about which main character I was reading at the start of every chapter, especially the three female characters. I was also often confused about who secondary characters were, especially since they popped in several of the main characters stories even when the main characters themselves weren’t interacting. I think they were meant to serve as strings between the characters but in some cases in confused things further.
THE SMELL OF OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES is a beautifully written story about the meaningful ways people’s lives intersect in the incredible and unique setting of Alaska. The story isn’t afraid to address difficult topics while reminding us that most important thing we can have in our lives are other people.