Benoit Duteurtre | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Benoit Duteurtre 

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French writer Benoit Duteurtre's satiric novel The Little Girl and the Cigarette (Melville House) opens with a conundrum: condemned man Desire Johnson's last request is to smoke a cigarette, yet the prison is smoke free. The resulting legal quandary and Johnson's serene, adamant stance create a media frenzy; the execution is postponed until the Supreme Court can rule. Seeing an opportunity for a public relations coup, the General Tobacco Company (located on President Bush Avenue) takes up Johnson's cause. Meanwhile the unnamed, fortysomething protagonist--a competent but unambitious mayoral aide--sneaks a cigarette in a bathroom stall of his smoke-free municipal building. When a five-year-old girl accidentally opens the door and busts him--"You know, you're not supposed to smoke here! Because of the children's health!"--he's summarily charged with child molestation. While the convict's televised act of lighting up creates a wave of public sympathy that leads to a pardon, the furtive puffing leads to a grisly end. Both funny and unsettling, this is the first of Duteurtre's ten novels to be translated into English. a Thu 4/12, 7 PM, Book Cellar, 4736 N. Lincoln, 773-293-2665.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bettina Rhemes.

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