The title of this collection of very short stories is its most provocative element.
The publisher calls this book "Flash Fiction," which is described as “the love child of Narrative and Meth Amphetamine.” The foreword proceeds to offer other names for this kind of fiction, saying that “the most charming sobriquet comes from China: Smoke-Long Stories. A narrative that can be read in the time it takes to smoke a cigarette.” More than 50 stories fit within little more than 100 pages, and they range in length from one paragraph to a couple of pages. They rarely relate to each other, except for two consecutive stories, “Homage” and "Eat at the Downingtown Diner Located Conveniently in Downtown Downingtown," which mention Steve McQueen and seem more like one story. The author's previous books are mostly poetry collections and novels for teenagers (The Ogre’s Wife, 2013, etc.). Here, he draws from classic mythology, Lois Lane’s diary, exchanges between students and schoolteachers, and reflections on the nature of storytelling. Among the more memorable are “University of the Dark," in which the afterlife is an eternal library (“There are a lot worse things than being dead”), and “Principles of Handicapping,” which applies the horse-racing model to, say, “a filly named Teen Age Temptress [who] prefers weekends to weekdays. Past performances show that she tends to sulk and toss her rider on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.” “Money and a Room of One’s Own” concerns a plan to start a small publishing house dedicated to the “marginalized and unappreciated.”
The cigarette analogy of “Smoke-Long Stories” would seem to apply—if you smoke a pack straight through, few will be memorable, though perhaps rationing them to one at a time over a longer period will enhance the experience.