If You Could Do It Over – The Nobodies Album

If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would that be? Would you right a wrong, or selfishly target something to make yourself feel or look better?

In the beginning of her book, The Nobodies Album, Carolyn Parkhurst warns you

“…better to keep the focus on yourself and leave the others to sort themselves out…”

Octavia Frost is a well-known author who has decided to create an addendum for each ending of her books. She’s rewritten the end of each story and compiled them into a new book – The Nobodies Album – named after a game she and her son played when he was a child – the stories that only exist in the imagination.

In delivering her manuscript to her publisher, she notices the news ticker across Times Square, announcing that her now rock star son is accused of brutally murdering his girlfriend. She leaves immediately for San Francisco to be near her son, whom she hasn’t talked to in four years.

And so the mystery story begins. Who killed Bettina (the girlfriend)? Did her son really do it? Why haven’t mother and son talked in so long? What did he read in her published book that turned him away from her? How did her husband and daughter die?

Parkhurst cleverly keeps you in suspense, and teases you by injecting the last chapters and rewrites of Octavia Frost’s novels just when cliffhanger clues might help solve the murder. You’ll be tempted to skip back to the action, but then you’d miss those peeks into Octavia’s subconscious. The rewrites offer endings with hope, but the originals speak to her regrets.

Could she rewrite her life along with the endings? Can she be there for her son or will she coldly use him as material for her next book?

Halfway through the book, it hit me– this is Mary Tyler Moore in Judith Guest’s Ordinary People.

Despite all the angst, emotional upheaval and selfish moments, Parkhurst delivers a good detective story. You might guess whodunnit – but by that time it will seem irrelevant.

Not an easy story to read, The Nobodies Album thankfully has an ending that does not need rewriting.

Remembering Smell

Have you ever fallen asleep on an airplane, only to be awakened by the strong smell of a salty, cheesy snack? Or wondered why the person sitting in front of you at the theater decided to use the entire bottle of perfume. The sense of smell doesn’t draw attention unless it’s strong – or missing. And, like most things, you don’t miss it until it’s gone.

In “Remembering Smell,” Bonnie Blodgett tells her true story – a gardener and lover of flowers who loses her sense of smell by inhaling an inocuous cold preventative. As she takes you from the trauma of discovery to her worry that she is on the verge of Alzheimer’s, it’s easy to relate to her anxiety. Her journey from ENT doctor to psychiatrist is not easy, but she becomes an expert on the olfactory system.

Blodgett tells you more about the mechanics of smell than you need to know, but some of her scientific ramblings are fascinating, and her historical references to gourmet cooking and the perfume industry are informative.

You might think that smell is not that crucial, but when Blodgett describes her great-grandfather’s comfortable wing chair as “a sponge for (nostalgic) smells,” the sadness of her dilemma becomes clearer. Try to imagine eating without tasting – or cooking without sensing flavor.

Eating became mechanical and never satisfying, and depression became a constant. When Blodgett describes her loss of pheromone radar, she gets downright clinical.

She finds that reading about odors actually triggered the memory of smells for her, although the books she cites – “The Kite Runner,” “East of Eden” – may not evoke the same sense for those still able to smell. Sadly, her reading of books becomes more research than pleasure.

Blodgett’s story has a happy ending, and she regains smells with a new appreciation – like anything precious that was lost and found again. She provides a substantial body of information along with the emotion – and a good reminder to savor the smells around you.