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Smoke and Other Early Stories

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2003

    Strange, Beautiful Smoke

    If my memory serves me well, I first learned of 'Smoke and Other Early Stories' after reading an article about Douglas Messerli, founder of Sun & Moon Press in Los Angeles. Messerli spoke of his giddy discovery that the copyright on many of Barnes' short stories had run so he had the legal right to publish them. Though Barnes apparently was not pleased by this, this collection is the result. And God bless the result. These fourteen tales (puntuated by Barne's own strange and evocative pen-and-ink illustrations) should be read by anyone who loves well-crafted, provative short fiction; and it should be a must for those who are beginning writers. The first sentence of each story introduces you to a world where everyday people and things transmute inexplicably into something weird and dreamlike: 'Every Saturday, just as soon as she had slipped her manila pay envelope down her neck, had done up her handkerchiefs and watered the geraniums, Paprika Johnson climbed onto the fire-escape and reached across the strings of her pawnshop banjo.' (From 'Paprika Johnson.') Sometimes, she sets the stage simply as with the first line of 'What Do You See, Madam?': 'Mamie Saloam was a dancer.' As Messerli notes in the introduction, Barnes' stories were published in newspapers at a time (the first two decades of the 1900s) when the public expected to see short fiction in such venues. Reading this collection can only make you long for such an era.

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