Scent of a post-menopausal woman

Slate has declared a “Book Blitz” this week, and although I’m not sure I can join Vendela Vida in calling for U.S. fiction that evokes the smell of pussy,* I was entertained by a survey of novelists on the way their votes will be cast in the upcoming election. All writers surveyed plan to vote for Kerry, save Orson Scott Card (Bush), Robert Ferrigno (Bush), and Lorrie Moore:

Are there really any novelists voting for Bush? I am tempted, since my vote is almost always bad luck, its recipients almost always losing.

* Sorry, I’m under the spell of strong cold medicine that I’m not supposed to take. Anyway, it’s Vida’s example, not mine.

Here’s the thing: I admire well-crafted passages describing scents in literature. And perhaps, as Vida contends, American novelists fail to provide sufficient “counterparts to Proust’s madeleine, Lawrence’s chrysanthemums, Shakespeare’s roses, Donne’s elixirs, and Chaucer’s farts.” She may even be right to hope that fiction set in Manahattan in the months following 9/11/2001 (I remember that smell only too well) will revive a lacking focus on the olfactory.

Still, in my experience, just about every other manuscript submitted in a graduate workshop by a boy under the age of 30 discusses the aroma of female genitalia. Not menopausal genitalia, I’ll admit. But suggest it to a room filled with novice fiction writers, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to oblige.

Maybe I’ve taken too many writing workshops. It’s possible that the novels actually published do suffer from a dearth of scent. But I’m imagining all the young writers in graduate fiction programs across the country reading this article and thinking, right, that’ s how to make my book stand out! I don’t need a story, I’ll just describe the smell of dog shit and babies’ urine and old men.

Which isn’t what Vida is saying, of course. (See disclaimer about cold medicine, above.)


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