“I wanted to write a love letter to cigarettes. I wanted to write a story that genuinely, without irony, celebrated smoking… now, ten years after quitting, I recall cigarettes with an affection that I feel for no other nonliving thing.”
~~ Susan Perabo, One Story Q&A
You’ve got to read this story.
I’m not going to say much about it. I’m not going to trace the plot, or explain how I identify with the characters, or guiltily admire the structure, or even relate my experience of reading it (with one exception). I’m not even going to link to the author’s interview at the One Story website as I usually do (the quote above will have to suffice unless you want to go googling) because I think it’s too spoilery, even before you get to the capital SPOILER ALERT warnings. And, above all, I’m not even going to talk about why I won’t talk about it.
But you’ve got to read this story. Trust me on this. You should probably read it at a time and place where it doesn’t matter if you melt into a sobbing puddle of goo for a while afterwards. Not, say, on your lunch hour.
If you, like me, are an ex-smoker, you might find it a difficult story to read. As is obvious from the Q&A quote above, Perabo is an ex-smoker. I could tell, as I read, it was written by a smoker – not someone who lived with a smoker or observed smokers – because she got so many of the tiny details right. The “musical wheeze.” Missing cigarettes between cigarettes. And the best one of all:
What I loved about smoking, after my first day as a smoker, maybe even after my first puff, was that a cigarette was a thing to reach for every time I wanted to reach for something. It was a permanent answer to the persistent question now what?
That was the best thing about smoking for me: it gave me something to do. I’m so glad to know I’m not alone.
Now, it may seem a little narcissistic (a little?) to write about myself, instead of addressing the story this post is ostensibly about. But I can’t discuss the story – even a little, even in an abstract way, which would be the best way to discuss it, talking about form, about rules, about my experience of reading it – without spoiling it, I believe. So I’m left with smoking.
Ok, that’s just ridiculous. Let me try to get a little closer:
Don’t go away thinking it’s a story about smoking. It’s a story about indulgence on many levels (I never realized the depth of the word before). It’s a brilliant love story in form, content, and effect. It’s a story that will get you thinking about the decisions you make, the ones that seem pretty shaky at the time, and how, even if you make a decision with love, you may not know if it was the right one for a long time. In fact, you may never know it at all, unless someone tells you. And inversely: someone else may never know, unless you tell them.
You’ve got to read this story. It costs $2.50, the price of about eight cigarettes. It’ll last a lot longer.