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Makes you stop and smell the roses

By Bequail, author of The Scapegoats

Aug 31, 2016: For someone who barely has a sense of smell due to year-round allergies, The Smell Collector was a fun and intriguing experience.

The story follows Jim Bronson, a man who has trouble grasping social nuances and collects smells like one would take photographs. He goes around sniffing people and things so he can recreate those scents in his basement.

Already, the above line should be an indication to the type of person our protagonist is. He’s a strange fellow, more than a little obsessive, and as noted by a couple of the other characters in the story, downright creepy. Jim Bronson does have hidden depth beneath his unconventional pastime, however. His interesting worldview is enough to pull the reader in despite his eccentricities and sometimes off putting behaviour. I found him charming, endearing even, after the first few entries, and his voice is filled with humour and introspective gold.

On that note, the work is rather character-centric. Characters are complex enough for the length of the work, and the story makes use of their individual idiosyncrasies to play with themes such as loss and purpose. The plot is a little predictable but satisfying, and not without its surprises. The Smell Collector uses this to its advantage, the simple plot serving to better develop its rather limited cast without being muddled with unnecessary complication.

My only large complaint is the lack of consistency in the work. Events are told through different POVs, characters, and mediums, and not always in a linear fashion. Even Jim’s chapters switch occasionally from first-person to third-person. And while this did keep things interesting and make the work more cohesive as a whole, albeit confusing on the outset, it could be jarring when switching to some of the more unique perspectives/styles and at times made the narrated events seem trivial or even slightly cheesy.

It’s a short work, one that I binge read over the course of an hour and a half long train ride. And while it’s not like the action packed epics I’m used to reading, I still found it enjoyable and would definitely recommend it.

All in all, The Smell Collector is an easy, light, and quirky read, that can freshen up a long commute or make evenings smell a little sweeter.

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Smell collector doesn’t stink.

By Wildbow, author of Ward

May 1, 2014: Our protagonist is a small adult man with no social graces, who lives with his mother, surreptitiously (or so he thinks) sniffing people. As a character driven work, this is essentially the story summed up – following a damaged individual who tries to make sense of the world by codifying its smells.

The Smell Collector (TSC) is a hard work for me to review. I tend to put a lot of stock in the flow of a work: the manner in which A leads to B leads to C, the ability of a work to sweep up the reader in the patter of the writing itself and the segues from event to event. This is, I would suggest, the Smell Collector’s weakest point.

That said, the Smell Collector has its charms, and it’s certainly not a bad piece of work. I read it to completion, and I’ve stopped midway through serials with better flow.

Short, at 55 installments of a few hundred words each, it’s easily an afternoon read. It’s a fairly casual read, which is harder to read due to the change of perspectives than any convolution in the story. Changes in perspective, covering a wide range of characters (from our protagonist to the heroine, to bystanders) and formats (journal entries, experiment progress notes, and third person), are relatively easy to process, all things considered – the author signifies who is talking well enough that I didn’t have to reread to grasp what was going on.

The story doesn’t follow a particularly straight line. With the changes of perspective, we see the story backtrack a bit. The same events from a different person’s eyes, or even the same events from the same person’s eyes. This helps to ground the reader, but it makes the pacing a little staggered. Things are complicated some when some events are shared out of order. Two steps forward, then one step back, if you will.

One can argue that this awkward structure fits the protagonist’s nature. He’s a disjointed little man, one that’s oblivious to social niceties, prioritizing his smell collection at times over social boundaries or even his job. It dominates his thoughts and his notes. However, a disjointed read is still a disjointed read, whatever the underlying rationale or excuse, and particular readers might want to take note. It’s one of two major culprits I would point to in explaining TSC’s lack of flow.

The second culprit is the site structure itself. Read using the ‘next post’ link, and you’re going to see roughly ten or so posts with author updates, random thoughts or complaints about a lack of readers – it takes you out of the reading experience, and in my book, it’s not something so excusable as the last point. Further, the reading experience was interrupted by the layout of the ‘next chapter’ links, which took some hunting to find. The ‘related posts’ and ‘who is the author’ bits below each chapter and above the ‘next chapter’ links are all more prominent. More than a few times, I clicked on the ‘related posts’ bit instead, and this added to my confusion.

Those are my gripes. Take away the (intentionally?) disjointed flow and it’s a rather straightforward story, and the non-protagonist characters are equally straightforward.

That said, TSC’s protagonist strikes a good middle ground. He’s weird, arguably autistic or suffering from aspergers, with no social graces and a peculiar obsession. Author David Hill Burns doesn’t force sympathy down the reader’s throat, but allows the reader to come to their own judgements. For a character-centric story, he has a definite charm, and he walks a thin enough line to hold one’s interest. Very possibly interesting enough to merit a read.

I like for a story to give me something I can take away from the reading, and TSC does that. It’s not a classic by any means, but I found it a good, quirky, casual read. There’s something to be said for that.

If that’s something that appeals to you, maybe check it out.

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Ha ha – Something Special

By Fiona Gregory, editor

Jan 18, 2014: Jim has a hobby, and he’s very good at it. But sometimes it leads to problems.

"I have been banned from the shoe and boot repair shop. The owner, a Mr. Young-soo Kim, objected to my close range sniff of his person (ginger, garlic, and leather). His words were “You no sniff around here no more. I break your nose!” It’s difficult for me to understand humor, but I think that perhaps he was being jovial with me. I’ll come back later this week to find out."

Although the story doesn’t overtly say so, I’m pretty sure Jim has Asperger’s Syndrome. Because he’s been dedicated to his passion for analyzing the components of scents of people, places, and events since childhood, he has an amazing ability to pick them out like a trained musician might pick out notes in a symphony. When he’s not discreet enough in his research on the smell profiles of random strangers, though, like Marie in the library, she doesn’t understand that it’s all for science and reacts as you might expect.

However, Marie has issues of her own, and though their first interaction is inauspicious, it turns out that Jim and Marie each hold the key to something very important to the other.

This is a fairly simple story, yet it manages to be funny, original, and ultimately, beautiful. It could easily have gone wrong by being too silly, or getting maudlin, or losing our sympathy for its oddball characters, but instead it hits all the right notes. It’s not often a story makes me smile and giggle, and also makes me cry.

At the very least, after reading this story you’ll never think of smells the same way. Except for a few favoured scents of flowers and maybe cookies baking, people tend to think of smells as a bad thing, to avoid. But for most other animals, it’s the primary sense with which to know the world. The Smell Collector is on to something.

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