Ten Stories About Smoking Paperback – 1 May 2012
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- Publisher : Picador (1 May 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0330525166
- ISBN-13 : 978-0330525169
- Dimensions : 13 x 1.6 x 19.7 cm
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From the Publisher
About the Author
A former bookseller and editor, Stuart Evers now writes about books for the Guardian, Independent, New Statesman, Time Out and many other publications. His fiction has appeared in 3:AM Magazine, Litro, The Book Club Boutique Magazine and on EverydayGenius.com. He lives in London.
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Anyway, grump over and I realise I may well be in a minority of one.
Whatever, short story collections of this sort these days seem to be immediately short-handed as `Carveresque;' indeed the last of Stuart Evers stories, The Last Cigarette,' features Raymond Carver himself, sharing the tale with a juxtapositioned hospitalised father back in the UK, both terminally ill and enjoying what they expect to be their `last cigarette.'
Although the style and tone of the stories are definitely rooted in the American short story, I found them not so much in the style of Carver, but more metropolitan and brooding in a `middle-class' fashion than Carver's more desparate, parochial studies in human disintegration.
In that way, the stories of Jay McInerney spring more to mind as Evers reference point than Carver. What Ever's does generate though, is a strong and well sustained air of studied melancholy and detachment in the best of trans-Atlantic traditions. And the common theme is not so much one of loss, but a sense of not knowing what you want and being unable to find a way of defining it, in the best of post-modern traditions.
There is in some stories however a rather tenuous link to smoking, as if cigarettes have been introduced as a peripheral issue in order to give the short story collection a common theme [another good marketing ploy], although the strongest stories such as 'The Last Cigarette' are the ones that put smoking cigarettes central to the whole point of the tale.
In this vein, one of the most affecting stories is `What's In Swindon,' which is also one of the shortest, which charts the brief reunion of two former lovers in a Swindon hotel to see if they can rediscover what they had previously lost. The woman who organised it finds they can't and I won't spoil it by telling you the reason why, but it's not for the reason you'd expect...
This is on the whole a very satisfying read and so far as literary calling cards go, a huge success for Evers. The simplicity and sustained atmosphere of the stories leaves one feeling as if you have as much read a novel as a short story collection, which to my mind gives you the best of both worlds.
I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next, as we need some new British writers breaking out and doing this sort of thing, rather than obsessing about writing books about the petit-bourgeoisie that will win the Booker prize.
There is an air of darkness about all of these stories, with the theme of cigarette smoking running through them - the story of a bride-to-be who hunts down an ex-lover, to see if she has chosen the right man, only to be upset that he no longer smells of smoke, or the young girl who is recovering from a nervous breakdown who discovers that her whole world has become dirty and yellow and smelly.
Evers does not make smoking seem glamorous or cool, in fact, most of his characters lead a sad and lonely existance, which probably plays into the current anti-smoking trend.
There is no real continuity to the stories, either in content or in style and some of them feel a bit lacking, with abrupt endings that need a bit of figuring out
I was sent a copy of this to review. Not the boxed edition, just a review paperback so I can't comment on the packaging.
I approached this set of short stories with a little trepidation. As an ex-smoker I didn't want the romanticism of smoking (and it does have a romantic element - think of film noir) to pull me back to its nicotine heart. I needn't have worried.
Although each of the ten stories involve smoking, in only a couple of them is smoking a central theme. In some it seems entirely redundant or is relegated to after-sex lighting up. Smoker or not, I would recommend this collection. The prose is truly wonderful, the short stories are wonderful captures of the human condition - snap shots of life, if you will.
My reference to film-noir was not accidental. Each of the stories feel like a slice of Ingmar Burton or the dark streets of Sam Spade. Try reading 'What's in Swindon' or 'Eclipse' wwithout being moved or finding yourself thinking about it hours or days later.