“A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain”

If I was disappointed by Robert Butler Olen’s short story collection “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain” then it was not because of the individual stories themselves. They are all well-written, and some of them exceptional.

But reading the book cover-to-cover, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed/bored by the lack of variation in the theme. Yes, Butler considers the aftermath of the Vietnam war and the experiences of those Vietnamese now living in the US from multiple viewpoints, but the relentless nature of one tale after another with the same underlying backstory leads one to subconsciously read more lazily: ‘Oh, I read something about that before, so I won’t concentrate for a few lines…’. At least that’s the danger.

Maybe it’s my fault. Perhaps I should have realised that was the case early on and made “A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain” something to dip in and out of. If you were going to read it, that’s what I’d recommend. And leave “The American Couple” until the end because I think it’s too long and – in my opinion – the weakest of the stories, and just could put you off the rest.