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I’ve read this book several times, but this is my first listening experience with it. I’ve never been satisfied with any other portrayal of the Count, but the original Bram Stoker novel. What brings me back to it over and over is the old world experience, especially Harker’s journey to Transylvania. There were some oddities to the reading, and I think that I’m on board with them. Some of the actors used accents when quoting other characters and some did not. Mina always did her best to give the impression of a Texan, Dutch, and male voice, where Dr. Seward never did. But I’ve decided that we’re all that way when we tell stories. Some people just have the gift of impressions and some do not.

The voices are very similar to the ones in my head from having read it several times. Mina, having said to have the brain of a man but the heart of a woman, is thus portrayed….both exacting and courageous, but also movingly compassionate EVEN toward the count….all conveyed well by the actor.

Unrelated to the performance, I’ll say that I’ve always struggled with Van Helsing. He seems like that lonely fellow that upon making friends for the first time gets a little too attached, pledging life long love and such. He is also terribly long-winded. I sometimes zone out once I get the gist of what he is saying.

Also, the beauty of this novel is in the intimacy. Reading diaries and letters satisfies a certain desire for voyeurism! Give gives you such a sense of atmosphere both internally and externally.

51UCCn0xDfL._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Before I review, let me say that Pat Conroy is one of my favorite writers.  His writing is greatly influencing the novel I am writing right now: The Belly of the Church.  I’ve read many of his books.

Review

While it is true that “South of Broad” is a love letter to the city of Charleston, it is also a love letter to the English language. Never have I read an author with such a comprehensive mastery of English. Whereas many writers may attempt to connect with their readers by using a common denominator of sorts in their use of vernacular, Mr. Conroy boldly and poetically embraces his vast vocabulary to create the richest possible world that words can create. However, his language alone could not make this novel as powerful as I believe it to be. He uses his substantial powers of imagery and literary precision to tell a story that borders on epic. His writing is honest to the degree of astonishing beauty, profound human wisdom, and harsh brutality. “South of Broad” is as strong a novel as Pat Conroy has written and perhaps the culmination of his writing prowess.

What a great story. Our main character is a puzzle, obsessed with scent to a somewhat alarming extent. The story has some twists that caught me by surprise and left me hopeful for this misunderstood misfit.
The references to his (my) hometown will make any Normanite proud. Ah, Sooner Dairy Lunch french fries…
I look forward to David’s next book!

Some have asked if Jim is an autobiographical character.  He is so specific that I think he seems real to people.  He is not, but the idea for him comes from my life.  When I was four, my family moved from Austin, Texas to Lonoke, Arkansas for my father’s first preaching job.  Before we left, my mother took my twin brother and me to the post office.  There at the counter I saw a little girl and became instantly smitten.  Later, in Arkansas, we went to the post office and it smelled exactly the same.  I got a rush of butterflies for the girl.

From then on, I became more aware of smells and how they affect me.  I wanted to visit that post office because of the smell.  It made me feel good.  It’s an odd thing that a post office should give a little kid butterflies, but perhaps I was an odd kid.

So I thought, what if a man’s good feelings were so strongly associated with the smells of the past that he could no longer experience positive experiences in the present.  What if the only way he could feel good was to re-experience the smells?  It’s a sad sort of person, but also interesting.

Check out Whiff on Amazon

 

When I wrote Whiff, I only had my experiences with smell to draw on.  Jim was a fantasy character in my mind.  Jim’s heightened sense of smell seems beyond what is humanly possible.  He describes smell of dying like this:

It is the subtlest of odors, death—not unlike the smell from when one falls from lucidness into the first moments of dreaming—but perhaps a touch sweeter.

He describes Marie like this:

rain on early spring birch leaves, the filament of an orchid, and the slightest hint of cardamom

To be honest, I don’t even know if the filament of an orchid has a scent. In fact, I chose it because to smell it, you’d have to get passed the predominant smell of an orchid.   I wanted to convey that Jim is a savant of the highest order;  capable of detecting beauty beyond the reach of a normal person, or perhaps any person at all.  But maybe Jim is less of a fantasy than I originally thought.  It is likely that Jim is a hyperosmiac.  Wikipedia defines

Hyperosmia is an increased olfactory acuity (heightened sense of smell), usually caused by a lower threshold for odor. This perceptual disorder arises when there is an abnormally increased signal at any point between the olfactory receptors and the olfactory cortex.

This condition that Jim has is real science.  He was likely born with this condition, and it fits even better than I’d planned.  There’s neurology involved here.

What Is that Smell by Daniel J. Cameron, MD, MPH

Research studies examining impaired or heightened sense of smell have been focused primarily on patients suffering from neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Jim also seems to be on the autism spectrum.  His inability to recognize social cues and intense discomfort with communicating with the people around him would put him into the category of Asperger’s which is very much a neurological disorder.  It fits so beautifully and scientifically that Jim might have a heightened sense of smell and an obsessiveness associated with that of an autistic.

But it’s more than just a heightened sense of smell.  Jim is a chronic nostalgiac.  From an early age, his strong association with pleasure and smell conditioned him to have a dependency on smell in order to experience pleasure in the present .  It’s not enough to smell something that you’ve smelled before, there must be conditioning in order to have the kinds of responses Jim has.

How Smell Works by Sarah Dowdey

The olfactory bulb has intimate access to the amygdala, which processes emotion, and the hippocampus, which is responsible for associative learning. Despite the tight wiring, however, smells would not trigger memories if it weren’t for conditioned responses. When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the poolor lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. Chlorine might call up a specific pool-related memory or simply make you feel content. Lilies might agitate you without your knowing why. This is part of the reason why not everyone likes the same smells.

Although he’s a product of my imagination, there could be a real Jim Bronson out there.  But don’t just wait to find him.  Read about him in Whiff:   A Novella