Read a NetGalley eARC
Content warning: murder, manipulation, blackmail, gore, eye surgery, strangulation
Vic Fowler is an artist, a perfumist whose business is struggling as they’re trying to achieve the height of luxury and artistry in New York City despite everything about their lifestyle pointing to the contrary. They are threatened with blackmail in exchange for a commission—that’s right, the perfume is made of people. A saga of desperation, aesthetic, murder, and dissatisfaction follows hence forth.
Tonally, it reminded me a lot of A Certain Hunger with its voicey protagonist who’s really three anxiety attacks in a well-tailored blazer. At least they smell beautiful.
An interview with author Lara Elena Donnelly will be posted on February 3rd, 2022.
There is a precision to the language in this work that is immersive and impressive. Between the various scents and the little touches of New York City around the holidays you would only get if you lived there, the attention-to-detail is impeccable. It places the reader right in the center of it all, to the point that I felt myself a little unsettled and disoriented when I finished my read. Heady and absolutely breathtaking.
And horrifying in a way that is too true to the millennial experience. Desperation is palpable from the first page. It’s not really in pursuit of success, but in authenticity serving survival. Each of the characters we meet present a different facet of New York City in that way, and it’s really effective.
As a narrator and a protagonist, Vic is fascinating. Donnelly cleverly writes Vic’s gender by never specifying pronouns, even in the fuckier bits of the text (oh yeah, if you’re looking for more plot-driven fucking, you’ve come to the right place). Their gender is murdery perfumist with several skeletons in their closet. They’re enveloped in a deep knowledge of perfume, scent, and memory that lulls the reader into a trance. Until you realize that they’re the opposite of suave and incredibly anxious. Type-A, self-centered, and concerned with their own survival to a fault. Watching it play out in real time with terminal consequences is a delight from start to finish. A train wreck you can’t tear your eyes away from. I won’t spoil how it ends.
That all being said, there’s also this fantastic way that Vic addresses the reader directly, lending to an uncomfortable intimacy that almost gives the impression that you might be an accomplice in their schemes as well. And Vic isn’t letting you off the hook.