Erica Bauermeister's innovative approach to "seeing" the world through smells
Do You Believe in Literary Luck?
If you take a deep breath, you’ll smell the beautiful perfume of the pages in Erica Bauermeister’s book, The Scent-Keeper.
No kidding. The “bouquet” of such a lovely story stays with me, days after I read it.
Maybe the scent of this book seduced me.
I believe in literary luck or some kind of cosmic karma that draws me to certain books or poems when I need to see them. It happened when I fell on a Dickinson poem unexpectedly. When I stumbled across a perfect little copy of The Bridges of Madison County. Or when I wrote and researched a piece on the power of fragrances and then came across Erica Bauermeister’s 2019 book, The Scent-Keeper.
Bauermeister’s genius shines by using the often-neglected sense of smell as the way that Emmeline, the main character, perceives the world. Most authors are pretty-darned good at describing scenes and people but the vast majority of them do it by using the senses of sight and hearing. Colors and conversations. Sights and sounds, yes. But I have never before enjoyed the power of smell for a whole book. A character relying on her nose may seem strange, but in The Scent-Keeper, the approach gives the book an almost mystical energy and elevates it from a good story to a GREAT read.
“An artfully crafted coming-of-age story that will take the reader on an exquisite olfactory adventure.”
The Scent-Keeper IS magical. It’s a mystery, coming-of-age, discovering identity, accepting-your-true-self, finding-family, and understanding-love story.
But I’m not sure the reviews give the author enough credit for figuring out how to make a realistic story out of the powerful perfumes of life.
The Essence of the Plot:
Emmeline is a small child who lives with her father, an introverted scientist on a remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Emmeline’s childhood is a solitary but happy existence as she clambers over rocks and beaches, sucking in the smells of seaweed and salt. As I read, I felt as if I were in a lovely fairy-tale with the mist on my skin and the fragrance of fir trees in my nostrils.
Without giving away too much, (because you might really want to read this book!) let me just say that Emmeline comes by her ability to smell the world naturally. The book uncovers Emmeline’s history, one artful “scent-paper” at a time. From the reason her father chooses to live on an isolated island, to the secret behind her friend, Fisher’s, household, to the identity and true nature of her mother, The Scent-Keeper unveils a memorable story.
The prologue packs a wallop, especially when you remember it after you’ve read the book:
“We are the unwitting carriers of our parents’ secrets, the ripples made by stones we never saw thrown.”
Bauermeister must have done enormous amounts of research. The effect of fragrance on brand awareness, the impact in retail environments, and the psychology of smell are all integral to the plot. The author skillfully disperses information about hundreds of individual “notes” and how they interact with each other, an important element in Part III of the book. Even without the beautiful story, the impact of fragrance on daily life is a fascinating concept that inspired me to do a little research on my own.
And it’s all true:
When companies use fragrance in retail environments, customers
perceive the product to be of better quality
have desire to buy more
are willing to pay more
feel that their visit has been enhanced
remember and connect to the brand
Bauermeister’s research gave the book more impact because it was fiction based in fact.
What Scent Do You Want To Preserve?
If you could, what one scent would you want to bottle and preserve forever? The smell of your mother’s skin? The scent of a departed relative? The fragrance of a baby after a bath? How about newly-cut grass in the summer? Your grandfather’s pipe tobacco? The early morning rain of a warm spring day?
One of my favorite ideas in the book comes from a likable character who is working to preserve smells that are disappearing… like typewriter ribbons. (Remember those? That inky, wet aroma?)
My writer’s mind went wild. What scents are disappearing that I’d want to preserve?
The smell of freshly baked bread in the family kitchen?
Really fresh air with no touch of pollution?
The smell of the family room in my parents’ old house: top notes of woodsmoke and popcorn falling into lingering traces of swiss steak, tennis shoes, and ending with subtle scents of laughter and love?
Here’s where you add your own: _________________________________
The Scent-Keeper is the first experience I’ve had with Erica Bauermeister’s novels, but it won’t be the last. Her School of Essential Ingredients is now on my To-Be-Read list. When I looked her up to see her background, I discovered she is the same age as I am, has children, and was heavily influenced by Tillie Olson’s essay, “I Stand Here Ironing.” Me, too.
We have a lot in common…especially her statement:
“I’ve heard authors say that writing is torture, but for me, it is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. When I am writing, or talking with readers, the world is full of possibilities.”
Buy The Scent-Keeper
Buy Tillie Olson's "I Stand Here Ironing" included in collected works volume