cover image The Oregon Experiment

The Oregon Experiment

Keith Scribner. Knopf, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-59478-5

In Scribner's evocative latest, Naomi, a professional nose who's lost her sense of smell, and her husband, Scanlon, professor of mass movements and radical action, have just moved to Douglas, Ore., for his tenure-track position when Naomi wakes up to find the air full of the smell of mint. What turns out to be an olfactory daydream, however, becomes reality as Naomi's nose returns and is hungry for experience. Despite the smalltown feel of Douglas, the city is host to forces that threaten to tear apart the young family, namely anarchist Clay and secessionist Sequoia, whom Scanlon meets through field research but quickly loses his objective distance. Naomi, meanwhile, is terrified her revived sense of smell will abandon her again, and, as Clay becomes increasingly involved with Naomi and Scanlon, what once looked like a smart career move for Scanlon starts to feel more like a nightmare. Each character struggles with the line between idealism and realism, and, to his great credit, Scribner (Miracle Girl) avoids making the reader feel lectured to as he plays out his exploration of what happens when ideas and desires get put into practice. (June)