Baker & Taylor
Pace Burnett returns to his small Southern hometown called Smoke, dreaming that he might be the one to save it, and encounters a cast of eccentric characters
Blackwell North Amer
Where I come from, you hear a lot of stories - some of them actually true. There's one my mother likes to tell about the first time Carnihan and I met...
So begins John Ed Bradley's fourth and most accomplished novel. Like favorite stories from the past, Smoke creates a special world. Quick with incident and enriched by a large and colorful cast, it invites readers inside the sleepy, Brigadoon-like town of Smoke to linger and to love, while experiencing the delights and terrors of its wonderfully human people - storekeepers and short-order cooks, prostitutes and policemen, mothers and fathers, a writer and a wise billionaire (both on journeys of self-discovery), old-timers and the eternally green.
At the story's center are lifelong friends Pace Burnette and Jay Carnihan. Jay has succeeded his father as the proprietor of Hometown Family Goods, a retail relic caught in the rising sea of commercial uniformity. All across the nation, billionaire Rayford Holly's Monster Marts are driving the mom-and-pop operations out of business; Jay's fantasy is to kidnap Mr. Holly on one of his surprise inspection trips to the nearby mall and make him apologize for what he's done to America's small towns. Jay ("as wild a thing as there ever was in Smoke") puts it directly: "I just want to hear him say the words, 'I am sorry, Mr. Carnihan!'"
Jay and Pace readily achieve the kidnapping part, but extracting the apology isn't so easy. Rayford Holly turns out to be so confoundedly strange and likeable - quoting Walt Whitman, endearing himself to the dog, even tidying up Jay's museum of a store when he's not busy charming the lunch-counter trade - that it's not long before his special magic overwhelms Smoke.
With an abundance of wit and originality, the author has illuminated, strikingly, why we need friends, why we need enemies, and why we do not need regret. His narrative is as spicy as gumbo - rich and delicious with a powerful kick - and very funny. In Smoke, he has immortalized Main Street, U.S.A., at its last stand, Louisiana-Cajun style.
Pace Burnett returns to his small Southern hometown named Smoke, dreaming that he might be the one to save it, and encounters a cast of eccentric characters. By the author of Love & Obits. and Tupelo Nights. 12,500 first printing.
New York : Henry Holt and Company, 1994
400 p. ; 23 cm