“You know , I wish there could be an invention that bottled up the memory like perfume – that never faded , never got stale. Then, whenever I wanted to, I could uncork the bottle and relive the memory all over again.” the future Mrs. DeWinter ( Joan Fontaine ) in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca.
Did you know that olfactory sensors offer the strongest memory recall? Just recently I ventured into a used clothing store hoping to find some old magazines , wandered into a nook featuring old folk records and chipped bowling bowls and was hit by a strong violet-candy scent. I stood phantom still, while my body ricocheted back to The Owl and the Pussycat , a store I hadn’t been in, for over twenty years. But there I was , back again, chin just over the counter looking over the rolls of stickers debating which one to buy, while the clerk stood over me tapping her foot impatiently, ready to scold me if I scratched the Mello Smello – grape snow-cone sticker before paying for it.
Caroline B Cooney takes this notion of odor sensory as not just an opening for memory recall but as a possible doorway either to the subconscious or ancient evil. You decide because I couldn’t.
* Point Thrillers ( Horrors ) were Scholastic’s answer to the sudden interest in authors like Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. It wasn’t quite a ‘series’ because the umbrella title of Point also released romances and drama , however their was a blood-splatter logo reading thriller on some of their offerings to separate them. Despite their unofficial status they did bare more resemblance to the likes of Wildfire and Windswept than say a group of Apple paperbacks ,even without their own trademark by the fact that most of the books were done by repeat authors. The stories also followed a thriller pattern including a fake-out scare that most books adhered to , even the covers – mimicking their papa’s in the adult horror section united them by their pulpy artwork , eerie embossed lettering and ominous tag lines. Whether official or not they were a series. And one of their repeat authors was Caroline B Cooney. If you’ve never read a Caroline b. Cooney book , get one, read it. You definitely won’t be disappointed. She’s an electrifying author who flings out such visual splendor that her scenes don’t just enfold , they strobe. She can nail all her character’s persona in three pages and believe me – you won’t mix them up. This book along with her trilogy ( The Fog , The Snow , The Fire ) were among my favorite of the Point horrors.
The Perfume is a brilliant albiet flawed horror.
It starts off like any point horror with a tremor of doubt. A suspicion over , of all things, an ad for a new perfume called Venom. Dove, our heroine is both frightened and drawn to it. The word – venom, we are told , seems to “clasp her mind with tiny teeth”. She, like her name implies, is a softly hued meek girl who still looks under her bed. Her bf Connie whose major vocabulary is I immediately wants the perfume having collected other questionably named odors such as Obsession and Poison and suggests a trip to the mall. Luce another bf who hates her name and shifts gears in her car “like she’s hurling sticks of dynamite” agrees so long as she can drive. Dove attempts to back out when she learns the only shop that sells it is Dry Ice.
Dry Ice is one of those 80’s stores ( like the neon haven -Over our Heads in Facts of Life ) that sell all of life’s non-necessities like blow up palm trees and sick-slogan t shirts. My own brush with this knick-knack phenomena was the It store – ( the adults called it the sh*t store because it’s back wall featured all kinds of tasteless stuff – like kinky trinkets ( the boob hat ) and phallic shaped coffee mugs. ) Dry Ice however tops all the previous it stores because it’s not a tease – big vats of dry ice pump through the store creating a fog , a mist for customers to wade through. Shopping becomes a dreamlike experience…..
As the vapors mist the glass shelves and begin to wrap around Dove like a viper , Connie tries on the new perfume. Though marveling at the crystal snake bottle the girls are disappointed that the scent is well… too unappealing to bother with a purchase. But Dove a victim of the store’s mystical fog , finds herself destined to buy it knowing that finally something
dark would be lurking under her bed tonight. That she’d invited that darkness home.
The book keeps up this marvelous feeling of surrealism with each new vision drawing us deeper into it’s foggy depths. When Dove arrives home – at Change Sky Hills , a nest of look-a-like condos she forgets which one is hers and wanders around the complex in a panic. Her disorientation increases as medical phenomena begins wreak havoc, not only does she feel dual heartbeats in her chest but flutterings in her brain. Teacher’s talk of brains resembling onions and Dove wishes to feel the relief of an Egyptian trepanning. Trepanning, the teacher explains, is when an Egyptian drilled a small hole in the skull to let out an evil influence. Like a vapor? We also learn Dove had a twin which succumbed to something called the vanishing twin syndrome. It never developed. Sounds like Dove groping her way through the mists of Dry Ice. Her twins name was already chosen – Wing. Which Dove finds suddenly horrid – Dove is whole , complete while Wing is “disjointed , wrenched off, lost forever.” She imagines parking lots to be cemeteries and empty cars coffins. The fluttering in her brain reaches an apex of what becomes quite possibly the emergence of her phony twin trapped inside her , the evil twin – Wing. Or maybe she only thinks so.
This is where the book becomes a tad flawed. Horrors in my opinion have the worst burden of trying to wrap up a bizarre series of events with something that manages to maintain it’s prior level of illogical order – build up is easy , ideas are easy – outcome and endings are difficult. They strain the readers credibility to bring to light things that lurk in the shadows as mere spiders or aliens or ordinary vampires and jaded audience might find themselves yawning. So far the Perfume has dragged the reader through the tantalizing fog but emerges with the evil twin syndrome. Good but not necessarily great. The book is better spent never allowing the reader to fully comprehend what is happening to Dove.
But for a while the reader is tense , how is Dove going to prevail? She’s been shoved to a corner of her own mind while this evil entity has taken over her body and begins to provoke her family and friends. Something they agree is definitely off with Dove ….she even sounds different. Why is she talking with that new voice? Could Dove be schizophrenic? Is the Perfume , the venom, only a metaphor for an emotional outburst long over due. An effort to get her negligent parents attention? The reader can only guess.
Dove meanwhile fights to discover a weakness that will allow her to regain control of her own body – while everything appears linked to odor – though the perfume can trigger Wing – a fresh breeze stalls off the venom’s poison allowing Dove moments of victory – like throwing out the perfume. But Wing is still there biding her time to emerge and a trip to the mall reveals that Dry Ice has vanished like a fog that never was , and that the building itself has an eerie resemblance to an ancient pyramid. Hinting that Wing’s conception is centuries older than Dove first believed.
A fragile romance between nice-guy Timmy is snuffed before it can even flame up when Wing reappears and nearly pushes him out of a hot air balloon. ( She’d salvaged the perfume unbeknownst to Dove. ) And though a fresh breeze allows Dove to get the upper hand and save Timmy – he now believes her to be dangerous.
This realization that she is not hero and is left holding Wing’s mess causes Dove to recoil more – and Wing sets about altering Dove’s life to suit her. Using Dove’s friends to achieve an all black wardrobe , belittling Dove’s parents , bad mouthing teachers and openly arguing with Dove in mixed company Everyone but bad girl Hesta thinks Dove is having some sort of breakdown – but even Hesta begins to pale when Wing does a snakey dance under the pyramid skylight , in the mall’s fountain. The dance seems to symbolize some sort of ritual.
Dove however begins to wonder .. Is all this true? is Wing my dissolved twin , or merely evil incarnate or maybe just me going …insane. Everyone believes it’s number three and she is finally put away in a mental institution and observed for a week , so drugged – both Wing and Dove experience a confusion that eliminates either personality to demand much ground. When she is released Dove has only one friend remaining Luce though Hesta is still oddly up for a thrill ( though Wing had tried to kill her by attempting to yank the steering wheel when she was driving Hesta appears to have forgiven or forgotten ) And all three head back to the mall and enter the new store that used to be Dry Ice , a grandmotherly store with soft lilac and lavender scents. Wing is horrified and attempts to gain full control but Dove drives Wing out with a stolen , scented handkerchief and as she stumbles back into the mall fountain , dancing under the pyramid skylight, sends Wing off to the great unknown.
It is without a doubt the most original , most peculiar of the point thrillers. Most fall into a standard formula – developed possibly by R.L. Stine but executed nearly by all. A heroine finds herself in some predicament usually a witness to someone up to no good , is threatened and scared with escalating degrees of terror – there is always one false scream – like a hand reaching that turns out to belong to a friend. And then a climax to reveal the murderer or psycho. There is never necessarily a murder or a body but the point thriller’s didn’t shy away from murder – it was standard stuff to have high schooler’s as murderers or psychos. The Train itself features a story in which a coffin holding the dead body of a classmate accompanies a highschool train trip. ( this was after all the rise of the thriller – video’s featured all kinds of Fatal Attraction rip offs ) Occasionally the stories dabbled in the paranormal area of horror and like the outcome of the Perfume rather than attempt the plausible split personality – ghosts from beyond ruled roost.
Caroline B Cooney has some great themes that never seem to live up to there unease – I would rather believe Dove had merely been momentarily crazy rather than possessed and sometimes I think the themes support this theory- think back – when at the beginning of Dove’s mania on her way to the mall – she compares cars to coffins – an odd metaphor that helps to create unease but because it comes from Dove as a character , when should search the story for more mentions of cars as to see why she feels this way. Dove at the start of the story is fifteen – no licence yet , her friend Luce however has one and drives like she’s hurling sticks of dynamite. So far cars whether in motion or parked are coffins and dangerous and because Dove is fifteen it’s not just in her eminent future as a driver but present as a passenger. Could this also be foreshadowing when she tries to yank the wheel from Hesta and nearly puts them into a free flying ‘coffin.’ What if we took cars as bodies – like Dove’s body a vehicle in which two personalities fight to take the wheel. Dove never feels quite in control when Luce is driving , and then Wing violently trying not only to take control of Dove – but attempting to grab hold of Hesta’s steering wheel could explain it all. Dove – torn between being a frightened passenger who longs to put off control or a self destructive passenger – who attempting to hurriedly usurp control.
Colors also become a theme which could be the settling point in my argument that Dove was merely crazy – Dove – dubbed Dove bar is linked to pale soft colors , her condo is gray , her room is pastel rose , the sky outside blends with the condo and Dove notices that no piece of it was bright , “nothing glowed , nothing struggled to pierce the gray.” However Dove wishes for loud bursts of color – in her clothes – ( though she does have a purse that ironically is hued in fall ( change ) colors ) her home , even the bright hue of the sky. The first time we see a place encompassing bright colors is Dry Ice a place that Dove is scared of. These loud colors are encased in a mist , a fog. When Dove purchases a bottle of Venom it’s described as translucent – hiding it’s contents – like a fog. With it in her possession the skylight in her home offers a sky that is now blue – contrary to what is actually outside – as if it belonged to another world. The color comes down like a wind and tries to wrap itself around her. The perfume bottle drops releasing Venom. Venom and Dry Ice appear to be indistinguishable both are fogs leading one astray into a land of garish colors. Pale colors could also be linked to a sense of current time , now. Her parents who seem to be in a state of the present with no memorabilia to the past , are linked to the pale condo which is a mere box. Dove longs for the ancient world and in school they’re focusing on Egyptian history which throbs with color – Dove’s past also includes disjointed -Wing.
It almost appears as if Dove were concocting her own mania and dropping us little clues. Dove is very much like the bottle of Venom – hiding it’s true contents – waiting for it to be unstopped. Wing as a twin she admits even from her root, had no extension apart from Dove , her division also became her ‘death.’ And when Wing longs to lash out at people she picks on the faults that Dove despises within herself – her colorless nature , she calls her parents the maternal body , dissecting mother into carrier , wage earner , car driver. ( Dove admits page 27 despite loving both parents she was not close to them. ) Wing longs for revenge at being ignored. Dove is often passed over by her parents , and takes a backseat in her friendships. Wing appears to be all the violent color Dove lacks. Ironically Timmy – Dove’s love interest is connected to the bright colors of hot air balloons when he takes her up in one. She is even afraid of heights , despite immediately agreeing to the date she might not have gotten into the gondola if it weren’t for Wing.
Scent which apparently triggers Wing’s control also shifts the power in Dove’s favor – the scent of summer to come , rich farm smells , a grandmotherly garden and finally the most pastel of scents – Dove coming back to herself – lilac.
Here’s another flaw in the Venom as the ultimate power theory – Though Wing believes that everyone has a secret twin lying dormant , waiting to be released by the power of Venom – everyone in the classroom catching a whiff remains unchanged. The perfume only effects Dove.
Great Book! And I love the lettering on the old point edition. Though I have to say – the bottle is a flawed vision it was supposed to be snakey.
Reading this I thought about scents and the 80’s and stickers – remember those wonderful Trend stickers of the 80’s? It made me nostalgic for my old sticker album , and for the Owl and the Pussycat store, in it’s previous state. Oh well. But then about a year ago I stopped at a garage sale. It looked unpromising , being that it was late afternoon all the good stuff was probably taken. Everything left was tossed in bins and they were set up in a run down parking lot. I approached with mixed feelings ; I got out of the car for this? Don’t give up keep looking! At what rubber car parts? The old guy running it , a friendly sort in a too-tight t shirt , was eyeing me so I made a polite pass around the junk. Looking for anything special? He asked – hoping to stall my departure. Got any books. Books? Why do they always do that? – make it sound so foreign, books? Books? As if I asked for meteor rocks or something. Could be he grins. I spot an old jelly tote – I want that , grab it. Not a total loss. I crouch and sift as he proudly points out there’s some books. Egads! new cook books – the same ones I see at every garage sale and a couple of glossy hardcovers the same authors I see at every garage sale – anything Oprah promotes , anything best seller. I sift through to make him happy but under this I find some photo albums. I’m just about to dismiss them but take a peek in case , what can I lose? – old Santa Barbara clippings – not bad. Stickers! Stickers ! Yah! Googly eyes and Trend scratch n sniff and fuzzy puffies , glitters , foilies- the motherload! I quickly slap it shut – how much? The jelly purse the three albums oh five for all he says – I sneak back to my car practically cackling , what a find! And then ripping open the plastic no , could I actually after all these years? , though they’ve been much loved and much scratched – could I actually catch a whiff? I put my nose to Gordy’s licorice jimmies and for a moment yes – ah yes that transport back to 1983 – my backyard , the grass yellow-green under a specially hot sun , my feet bare , the sprinkler misting a moving rainbow beyond the porch. Me digging through a birthday loot bag and finding beneath the pack of strawberry Hubba Bubba – a strip of Gordy’s stickers.
Scratch N’ Sniff’s , Smelly’s , Stinky stickers call them what you may – they were everywhere , and dozens of companies put them out – the major brands were – Trend , Mello Smello , Paper Art , CTP ( Creative Teaching Press ) , Russ , Gordy , Hallmark , Boxed In , Gibson , Eureka , Mark 1 , Illuminations , 3M, Dennison , Weaver Werks , and well if you want to see the experts here is an awesome link! I collected my pics elsewhere , after trying to find out if anyone was selling a sticker I remembered buying as a kid ( actually my brother out of the goodness of his heart , and grass cutting money bought it for me ) I new it was a fat cat sniffy but can’t decide if I settled on clover scent or mint ice cream – probably mint ice cream!
Sniffy stickers were grand doodles turned into magical , interactive works of art – that unfortunately in order to enjoy them were systematically destroyed! Trend’s were most popular and featured the typical anthropomorphic object – be it food or a roller skate. Cheeky grins and cartoon eyes and apostrophe movement marks were their trademark style. Because a lot of these originated as teacher’s aids ( given to children as incentive treats ) they had slogans such as Way to Go , You’re tops , Dino-Mite , Stick to it – and punned the said object for instance the pickle sticker declared – Dill-ightful. Going on memory before I came across the sticker album – my favorites had been watermelon , peach , pizza , root beer , strawberry and pickle. I recall that chicken leg had been a great disappointment. Going over the scratch and sniffs just recently however , I forget how wonderful the spearmint frog was – just like those gummy spearmint leaves! Hot dog and hamburger smelled similar – like spicy meat. I also forgot how much I liked the birthday candles – which totally live up to their name. Leaves are great too and lawn – which like the licorice witch has the unique quality of having a smell that is so in tune with the idea of stickers rather than their scent that instead of bringing to mind – mown lawns or licorice drops I could only think of summer afternoons pouring over scratch and sniffs with my friends!
Gordy in my opinion had the best artwork who else would draw a banana as a strip tease?( though Mello Smello had the best colors! ) and they had the most out-there scents – hospital , bad breath , garbage , rotten eggs , booze , sewer , tavern( though they didn’t seem to last as long as Trend’s ) my favorites – were gas , bacon , barn yard , perfume. Though trying to scratch and sniff some that came in the sticker album I found – I couldn’t smell much only a couple ( not the exotic ones ) – they’d been all sniffed out! Bah!