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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Smoke-- but no Fire

Let me be clear: I hate trying to enjoy a piece of art and getting bombarded by dumptrucks full of flaws. Example at hand, the novel Smoke by Elizabeth Ruth. I tried, really. But then, oh then. Narration flips viewpoints for no reason. We are told the emotions the characters feel even before they can react and show us. Hackneyed word use screams from every page, coats are slipped on, hot stares fall upon necks, car door handles are cranked, songs end abruptly, legs are tightly crossed, scents waft, people worry themselves sick, sun filters down. People never walk up stairs they mount stairs, so often in fact that I was waiting for the stairs to get pregnant. Even verbs do not correlate. Three sentences in a row start: 1.) B. is wearing... 2.) He stuck a red blow... 3.) He intends to give.... Time sequencing is a mess. In one part the character goes to the school, skips school, takes a 20 mile hike, hikes back, spends a couple hours at a doctor's house, walks to a field, lays in the field for hours, and then we find it's only early afternoon. The final blow is what is probably designed to be the plot-- a boring, dull, rambling, repetitive rehasing of teen discussions and a vague question about price setting and tobacco. It's full of characters whose motivations, goals and problems are completely undeveloped and meaningless. At the halfway point I skimmed the remainder of the book. Of course the Globe and Mail praises Smoke. Have they misplaced (to use a nice cliche) their shit-detector? Well, we are all suspicious of their critical ability, especially after they stood alone (against all other reviewers) in praising Irvings most recent.