Revisit this macabre tale from German writer Patrick Süskind before viewing Tom Twyker’s (Run Lola Run) long-awaited film adaptation. Süskind’s creation Grenouille is the ultimate lurker; he is born with no bodily scent, emitting instead a palpable wrongness that even the most resilient of caretakers cannot abide for long. The misfit is eventually apprenticed to a Parisian perfumer, where he hones his ironic counter-trait - a nose preternaturally adept at identifying and cultivating pleasing scents – to a point of obsession. We descend with the antihero through provincial France on his madman’s quest to distill the essence of life wherever he sniffs it out, at whatever cost to the living source. This is a stunning literary exploration of beauty’s pull and the power of the most evocative of senses.
George Saunders possesses a truly original wit. These stories are way out-there, as usual, hovering somewhere between the hilarious and the nightmarish. Saunders delivers his critique of our media-saturated, pop-cultured lives in comedy-coated bits, which would be easy to swallow if the reader weren’t convulsing with laughter. His ability to parrot the all-nonsense conversational style of adolescents is absurdly funny, a skill that is surely enhanced by his experience as a professor. I suggest you read this collection back-to-front; the darkly comic Commcomm, which rounds out the book, was actually the first Saunders creation that I consumed. I’ve been ravenous ever since.
The only thing that distracted me from my engrossed reading of All The Living (Picador, $14) was my delight and wonder at having discovered the young, first-time novelist C.E. Morgan. Young Aloma is an aspiring pianist who comes to live with her boyfriend, Orren, on his struggling tobacco farm. Grounded by a loving mastery of the lay of the land, and the grit of Morgan’s rich, quotation-mark-free dialogue, the story of the couple’s tense love and their clumsy efforts to relate to each other take on an earthy authenticity. The story has a rustic timelessness about it, which puts it in a long tradition of first-class American writing.