Ten Stories About Smoking by Stuart Evers

IMG_1400 As the title of the collection suggests, cigarettes play their part in every story: the smell of them, the act of smoking, its consequences and so on. From London to Las Vegas via New York and Reno, Stuart Evers’ brief narratives are clipped and efficient: an obvious reference point is Raymond Carver, and Carver himself even pops in to take up one half of the final story. Guilt over the fatal King’s Cross Underground fire of 1987, years later, is a key reference point in another; meanwhile, a new mother has her suspicions of her partner; and a black sheep daughter has knitted a jumper for her niece in the sure hope that this will induce her rich brother take her on as an au pair and thus transform her aimless life. Her final realisation is low-key but shocking. And hopelessly sad. Many of the narrators are even less remarkable than these, living lives of quiet desperation or something close to it before something happens. A cheap Swindon hotel takes centre-stage in one character’s life. A chance domestic find reveals that there is much more to another’s family than he first thought, and that a dingy British bar on the Costa Del Sol might hold the key, for instance – but even when that mystery is solved, others are revealed. Life’s kaleidoscope changes position, undermining everything. There are occasional wild shifts in tone: an encounter at a casino seems to be edging into Midnight In Paris territory before veering off into a character assassination of one of British TV’s most celebrated magicians. It’s a lot of fun: but for the most part, Evers keeps these more baroque twists to a minimum and the collection is probably the better for it. He has the confidence that his clear writing can carry these simple tales: Ten Stories About Smoking is good, grown-up, reflective stuff about wistful love and self-delusion, and the acceptance of less than perfect situations. Although if you ever find yourself drawn to a selfish, unpredictable installation artist, then Evers has warned you. Quite apart from the excrescence of the artwork itself, you will have to put up with some very dreary conversations from the hangers-on.

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