The bequest of a mysterious vial transforms a woman into a scent seductress.
Evangeline, whose grandmother Louise has just died, does not consider herself particularly beautiful or talented. Louise, who was known to practice dark arts, leaves Evangeline her house in upstate New York (Louise moved from New Orleans years before). When Evangeline enters a room she vowed never to unlock, she discovers a small bottle of perfume, which, when applied, imparts an irresistible scent. Suddenly, Gabriel, a man previously out of her league, is her lover, and together, they move to New Orleans where he is a medical student. Once there, Evangeline encounters all manner of signs and omens, such as a dire tarot-card prophecy that she will spread evil and break hearts. The city itself, forever hot and steamy, echoes Evangeline’s turbulent state of mind as she finds herself inexorably drawn to Gabriel’s friend, Michael Bon Chance, a charismatic but mediocre painter who seeks to exploit Evangeline’s fragrance to catapult him into the upper echelons of the art world. At Michael’s triumphant show, consisting mainly of nudes of Evangeline painted without her knowledge, Gabriel walks away in disgust. Before Evangeline can explain, a dog bites her, and the wound festers. (Bringing out aggression in dogs is an unfortunate side effect of her pheromone-rich aura.) Now she must rely on the quirky 14-year-old son of a neighbor she has never met to take her to his grandmother, who practices her own version of the dark arts. Evangeline soon finds that her olfactory attractiveness does not compensate for the yawning void in her soul, but she will be hard-pressed to learn the lesson Louise intended to impart with her gift. Although evoking the peculiar exoticism of New Orleans with precision, Berwin’s prose labors hard to impart profundity to what is basically a pastiche of gothic staples (the forbidden room, the never-seen invalid mother, etc.).
An overly stylized parable with intermittent flashes of pleasant spookiness.