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.