What you expect from Ten Stories About Smoking is, bizarrely enough, ten stories about smoking. The title of this short story collection is rather misleading. If anything it should have been called Ten Stories About Human Life. This doesn’t really detract from Stuart Evers’ wonderful prose and individual narratives, but it is a frustration. What we have is ten great stories, a couple of which revolve around smoking and the rest just have a mention, almost shoehorned in.
In fact many of the mentions of smoking could even be replaced with another addiction or pastime and it wouldn’t make a difference. What is wonderful however is that each story has strength to stand alone. Many short story collections by the same author tend to be a little bland, with each tale flowing into one another mistakenly. Not so here. Although Evers uses similar people in similar places, each story is defined well enough so as not to encroach upon each other.
There is a theme that runs throughout, in my opinion and that is one of melancholy or loneliness. Each of the “heroes” are flawed and driven through their story by a weakness in humanity. It’s a bleak book on the whole, but one that opens a window into a person’s soul. Every story is heartbreaking in its own way.
Jealousy, addiction and guilt, are all themes among others. One thing that the reader will take away from this book is the fragility of humans as a race and as part of society.
Each story is strong, but of course some will shine brighter than others. A personal favourite of mine was Eclipse which told the story of a housewife obsessed that her Husband is having an affair. Something that drives her every thought, her every action and Evers, through his prose, gives the reader a glimpse of her frailty.
Many of the stories allow the reader to fill in the blanks, particularly at the end of the tales. Each story is left hanging as if someone over edited the novel, but it adds another level to the experience. With each story I finished I’d place the book down and think through what happened, what I would do in the characters shoes and what perhaps happened after the final full stop.
Ten Stories About Smoking will stay with you. It’s an easy book to digest, in fact I finished it in one day over just two sittings and that heightens how it is absorbed. You find the pages are just falling through your fingers and as soon as the book is put down they turn again in your mind as the stories linger.
It may be hard for some people to read as it’s so personal, but what Evers has created here is slightly flawed gem. It’s a great book with interesting and wonderful stories, but there’s that nagging that more could have been done with the idea or a different idea could have been pitched. When the only mention of smoking comes from someone lighting a cigarette, you feel a bit shortchanged.